What happens when your protector ravages you?
What happens when the society ostracizes you?
What happens when you lose your identity, your face?
What happens when your husband throws acid on your face?
Yes, you read it right. Not a boyfriend or a jilted lover, but a husband throws acid on your face. That’s what happened with Shireen Juwaley. A young, beautiful happy lady whose only dreams were to get married and have three kids had to wake up from the slumber of life in a way for which harsh is an understatement. And her fault? She wanted to break free from an unhappy marriage! Yet, Shireen’s story is not just a story of domestic violence gone very wrong but also a story of hope, of not being bogged down, of getting up and creating a life of your own that brings light to the lives of many others.
28th May, 1998; she remembers the date like an anniversary date, the day that changed her life forever. Her husband threw acid on her face and flew abroad the same night. Every move was planned. Every second of the day she was living towards having her life turned upside down.
There is a great quality that every achiever and winner in the world has in common. It is the ability to see light in darkness. Shireen says very clearly, “Since I was unhappy in the marriage, I’m happy that he did this to me. Now I will not have to succumb to all the peer pressure of getting back into that failed marriage. I’m just thankful to God that my eyes are intact.”
But when was life easy for an acid burn victim! For no fault of theirs, the society sees them as an eyesore, something that hurts the eye, something that shouldn’t be even looked at. What would be your reaction when you walk on the street and all you attract is stares and coldness? Shireen had to go through the same. And why only her? Every person with visual disfigurement has to go through the same disarming ordeal. Have you not stared at someone on the metro who looked different? Like stared shamelessly. Even forgetting to look away when the person caught you doing that. We may not know, but we do this. And we do this more than often!
People screamed, hid their faces, ran away from her, didn’t share a seat with her, threw her out of restaurants, social events, pregnant women were not supposed to look at her and what not. In short, she was humiliated in every possible way. And this is not just the story of one Shireen. This is also the story of thousands of other Shireens who gave in to this disability of the society and started to believe that they are not fit to live normally (whatever normal is). They have isolated themselves, locked themselves up and don’t show their faces in public. We have ripped them off their rights to social participation. Are we a happy society now?
It is said that ‘the test of fire makes fine steel’. After going through the ostensible behavior of the society, Shireen went on and found an organization called Palash Foundation which works towards creating awareness for the visually disabled and creating a society which doesn’t differentiate between ‘normal people’ and ‘different people’. It thrives to provide social enrichment and livelihood to people with disfigurement. But this is one organization for a population of millions. Shireen can reach may be lakhs of people in the coming years. We need to reach our own selves and question. Why have we created a rulebook of social behavior? Why do people need to look a certain way, dress up a certain way, talk in a particular manner even when they don’t have the ability to? Who makes these rules anyway and who gives us the right!
It is very easy to shirk off this moral responsibility and blame the society. But the society is made up of you and me. When did we try to change things on our own. If charity begins at home, so does change! When was the last time we told our children that a dark kid is as cute and adorable as a fair kid (or did we ever say that)? When was the last time a fairness cream advertisement made us cringe and say, “Are fairness & beauty such important parameters of goodness”? When was the last time we didn’t stare at someone different on the bus and actually chose to sit beside them and have a conversation?
We know these are a lot of questions. But answers are important. For in God’s own world, there wasn’t supposed to be any discrimination. We created it. Today, let us break these stereotypes and mend our mental disability. Today, let us create a better world for people not so privileged as us.
Shireen Juwaley and her Palash Foundation deserve a huge kowtow for this brilliant initiative and we are with them in bringing about this change. Are you?