Ayesha, 11, avoids showing her face because of shame. She begins crying as she describes how her left breast was burned by acid. (Khaled Hasan) Acid melts the tissues and even dissolves bones. No funding is available for cosmetic surgery, and most of the victims are from rural areas, so they can hardly afford expensive treatments. (Khaled Hasan)
Romantic rejection, gang rivalry, dowry solicitation, misogyny, prejudice – these are some of the horrendous reasons behind a painful form of violence many women around the world face: acid attacks. Acid violence is global, but a significant number of attacks are concentrated in South Asia, particularly in Bangladesh. According to Acid Survivors Foundation (ASF) of Bangladesh, there have been 3,000 reported incidents in the country since 1999. Over 80 percent of the victims are women. However, most attacks go unreported.
Five years ago, photojournalist Khaled Hasan became interested in conveying the stories of the Bangladeshi women and girls who have been violently assaulted with nitric and sulfuric acids used in jewelry and dyeing, to disfigure them physically and emotionally. He traveled to various parts of Bangladesh where acid violence is the highest, got to know over 150 victims and captured their painful stories through his lens.
Nitric and sulfuric acids, used in the attacks, can be bought in the black market for as low as $1. Though the government has initiated steps to control the availability, often the acids used in jewelry and dyeing industries and school laboratories find their way to the black market. (Khaled Hasan) A burn victim now looks at her reflection in the mirror. She used to enjoy looking at herself, but now winces, unable to forget the trauma of being burned. (Khaled Hasan)
But as a male photographer, he found it hard to gain access to the lives of female victims. “The main problem is access, and if the woman is victimized, then her family and husband do not want to be interviewed or photographed,” explained Hasan. But Hasan remained persistent and gained the trust of victims and their families over time.
In 2012, Hassan submitted these photos to the 2012 Kaunas Photo STAR competition and won. The work on acid victims was compiled in his book, “Leave Me Alone” (December 2014).
The photos in the book offer a glimpse into the lives of the acid victims and their painful survival stories. During this project, Hasan encountered many victims who eventually went on to work for non-governmental organizations that support other victims.
Doli’s brother thew acid on her after she approached him to ask for more dowry money at her husband’s request. After the attack, her husband left her. (Khaled Hasan) Doli looks on from behind a gate. With no place to live or work, she feels her life is now stuck in limbo. (Khaled Hasan) This is the window through which acid was used to burn a beauty and turned her into a victim. (Khaled Hasan) Two Bangladesh girls talk while combing their hair. From childhood, Bangladeshi women face many forms of social disparity and discrimination. (Khaled Hasan) A victim of an acid attack sits in shadow. Violence against women is common in Bangladesh and acid attacks are most common in rural areas. (Khaled Hasan) Nasrin was 23 when she was attacked by her husband. After beating and knocking her unconscious, he threw acid on her face, neck and hands. (Khaled Hasan) Nargis’s leg was burned by acid at the age of 4. Her dream is to still become a pilot. (Khaled Hasan) Nurun Nahar continues to feel haunted by the pain of her acid attack, and experiences hopelessness about her future. (Khaled Hasan)
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