Salam, Muskan Khatun!

Published On: April 25, 2021 08:00 PM NPT By: Smriti Dhungana  | @aesmriti

Well-wishers from all over the world including celebrities, activists, and politicians have been sending their regards to Muskan to encourage her to move forward in life alongside improving her self-esteem. Muskan claims that her development is attributed to self-confidence and encouragement from others. My family supported me the most in my times of pain, Muskan says. The support and encouragement from everyone has brought positive changes in me, she adds. In addition, famous Bollywood actor Amitabh Bachchan had also wished her well through social media and had also requested her to keep smiling. 

KATHMANDU: Muskan Khatun is a smiling and courageous teenager who is often remembered by the Nepalis when they hear the words “acid attack”. Her face and body scars still bear witness to the traumatic attack she suffered a year and a half ago. However, she has started to move forward in a positive manner and is pursuing her dreams wholeheartedly. "My face was damaged by the acid attack," she said, "But this stain does not affect my dreams or the way I smile. It’s wrong to judge me by my face."

Despite the horrific attack, Muskan has been involved in campaigns for women and children against violence and has been a source of inspiration for many. In recognition of her actions, she has been awarded the prestigious International Women of Courage (IWOC) award by the US Department of State for her work in putting an end to acid attacks. The award was presented on the International Women's Day through a virtual event attended by the US First Lady, Jill Biden and the US Secretary of State, Tony Blinker.

Muskan who is from Birgunj, Chhapkaiya, was honored for her contribution to the fight against acid attacks. She is the first woman from Nepal and the youngest ever to win the award. "This award has inspired me to continue my campaign against acid attacks and violence against women and children," Muskan said. The award has been given for the past fourteen years to women around the world who have shown courage and leadership in advocating personal risk and sacrifice, peace, human rights, justice, gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Muskan’s responsibilities have increased since she received the award. Upon reaching her residence in Dhungedanda, Kalanki, Muskan was giving suggestions through social media to a teenager who was exposed to violence. She is the second child among four other siblings and currently the oldest sibling in the house after her elder sister's marriage. It has already been a year and a half since the family of seven came to Kathmandu and rented a flat for Muskan’s treatment. Following her return from school, she goes to a nearby shop to help her father Rasul Ansari after which she remains busy studying.

Muskan’s father takes her to Bright Future Secondary School in Kalanki where she is currently studying in class nine. She arrives at the school by 6:30 in the morning and returns home after four in the afternoon. With a dream of becoming a doctor, Muskan is in love with her books and studies at the moment. As a young girl who understands her family’s problems and position, she is motivated to keep them happy after finding a job for herself in the future. "I will complete my studies, find a job and take good care of my parents," Muskan said. Upon hearing their daughter's wishes, her parents are very proud of her. As she was born in a Muslim family in Birgunj, her parents had received a marriage proposal for Muskan when she was still very young. Her father who believed it was important to educate daughters had rejected the offer and had moved on. 

On September 6, 2019, Samsad Miya and Sajid Miya sprayed acid on Muskan when she was just 14 years old for refusing a love proposal. Today, as she goes to school in the morning, her face and body scars can still be seen, but that has not dampened her smile nor taken away her courage. While studying in class nine in Birgunj, Muskan recalls her school teachers teaching her class about acid attacks and how painful it could be. During her traumatic experience, she was completely unaware that she had been sprayed with acid. “It felt like the boys had sprayed some boiling water over my face,” Muskan said. “The liquid burned my face, my throat, and my hands as soon as it hit me, knocking me unconscious. When I woke up, I was in a bed at Narayani Hospital in Birgunj,” she added. 

Muskan’s friends had rushed her to hospital after seeing her faint on the road. After receiving first aid at the Narayani Hospital in Birgunj, she was referred to Kathmandu for further treatment. Only after reaching Kirtipur Hospital in Kathmandu did she learn that she had been a victim of an acid attack. When Muskan found out that she was attacked by acid, she was more worried about missing school rather than her physical state. Meanwhile, her father and mother Sahnaj Khatun were worried sick for their daughter.

The scars on her face and neck are on the verge of drying up, but the traumatic event which took place on the day of the acid attack is still fresh in Muskan’s memory. Recalling the event, Muskan said, "I was standing on the road when two boys asked me to drink the water they were holding. I refused their offer and went on my way. They followed me and kept telling me to look back several times and when I did they sprayed the same water on my face which they had offered me to drink. Their motive was to make me drink acid and when I refused, they splashed it on my face."

Muskan had tried to block the acid with her school bag but was unable to shield herself completely from it. The teenager and his accomplice who attacked Muskan with the acid were sentenced to a Juvenile Home as per the order of Parsa District Court. She is currently undergoing treatment at Kirtipur Hospital where she comes for her follow up treatments twice a week. Today, Muskan has made her acid pain into her biggest strength. 

In the beginning, she was admitted to Kirtipur Hospital for about six months. During that time, she raised her voice against various forms of violence faced by young girls and women. In addition, she also made continuous appeals to the government for strict rules and punishment against acid attacks which resulted in the government issuing an order to prosecute acid attackers and regulate acid sales and distribution. 

Upon seeing his daughter's involvement in the campaign for women against violence, her father is very happy. “I was worried about how my daughter would be able to bear being burned by the acid attack. Instead, she has been a source of inspiration for us too,” he said. 

As for Muskan, she is currently training in martial arts (Taekwondo) for self-defense while also reading books, drawing, painting and singing songs in her spare time. “If only I had some basic knowledge on self-defense, I could have resisted the acid attack,” she said. “In a society like ours, it is necessary to train in martial arts in order to empower daughters,” Muskan added. 

Muskan is also active on social media these days and tries to answer the questions related to the topics on women immediately over the internet. The encouragement from other social media users has motivated her to speak out against violence against women. “I am now living a second life after the acid attack,” she said. "Well-wishers, celebrities and politicians from home and abroad have continuously encouraged me and I am moving forward with my family’s support."

The young acid victim proclaims that continuing her education is the strongest asset she has when it comes to raising her voice against violence against women and children. "We need to bring out the incidents of violence against us instead of hiding them to bring social transformation in our society," said Muskan. “Many are going to suffer if we silence ourselves in the face of violence,” she added. Prior to the acid attack on Muskan, perpetrators were punished based on the victim’s injuries as the legal system was very weak.

Despite her injuries, Muskan continued the campaign to punish her perpetrators stating that the punishment for such crimes should be based on the motive and not the victim’s injuries. Some time ago, the government passed an ordinance to amend the Criminal Offenses and Criminal Procedure Code which resulted in the Acid and Other Hazardous Chemicals (Regulation) Ordinance 2077 which was issued on September 29 after verification from the president.

Through the Ordinance, five sections of the law including the National Crime Code 2074 have been altered to manipulate the legal arrangements including imprisonment and fines against acid offenders. As stated by the law, acid attackers will be sentenced to 20 years in prison with a fine of Rs 1 million while also having to pay compensation to the victims. The state has already imposed laws to stop the open sale and distribution of acid, severe punishment for the perpetrators and free education and employment to the victims. Furthermore, Muskan has stated that in order for people to comply with the rules, raising public awareness is very necessary.

“The perpetrators who attacked me with acid thought that I would stay quiet,” Muskan said. She is hopeful that the ordinance will be implemented effectively. Her father is very proud of her voluntary involvement in campaigns for women and children against violence and wants her to continue. “She has helped boost the morale of many people,” he said. "No one can take my Muskan away from me, not even an acid attack. Therefore she should continue her campaign for women and children against violence," he added.

Well-wishers, celebrities, engineers, and politicians from home and abroad are encouraging her to move forward in life while also helping her to increase her self-confidence. Muskan claims to have changed in a positive way due to the words of encouragement and motivation from her well-wishers and the support of her family members. "With the help of everyone’s encouragement and support, I have changed for the better," she said. Also, Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan had requested her to keep smiling and wished her good health through social media. “I think you are a strong teenager. I wish you all the best, get well as soon as possible and always smile like this,” said Bachhan.

After returning home from the hospital, Muskan was admitted to a school in Kalanki. At a time when Muskan was still confused about how to continue her studies, she received a grand welcome from the school. Muskan wears a burqa when she leaves her flat. "I only wear a burqa to protect my wounds from getting an infection otherwise I don't like to hide my face," she said. "Hiding my face may increase the morale of acid attackers. Why should I hide my face?" she added.

Ujjwal Bikram Thapa, who is working for acid attack victims, said that Muskan is a role model for several other acid victims. "The award received by Muskan has encouraged victims like her to speak out against the crime. The award has given our country international recognition," said Thapa.

Muskan is not the only victim of acid attacks. According to government figures, over the last seven years, 28 cases of acid attacks have occurred in the country out of which 18 of the victims are females while four are males. Many of them are still teenagers. A total of 25 men and two women have been arrested by the authorities on charges of committing an acid attack.

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