On the suicide of Fakhra Younus

Christina here…

On March 17th, 33 year old Fakhra Younus, Pakistani victim of an acid attack (allegedly) perpetuated by her then-husband, committed suicide.

Her suicide brings attention to the horrific human rights violations of the patriarchical, male-dominated Islamic country of Pakistan.

After undergoing 30+ operations to repair her body, probably countless hours of physical therapy, and living estranged from her home country, Younus jumped from a building 12 years after the acid attack.

Younus’ story highlights the horrible mistreatment many women face in Pakistan’s conservative, male-dominated culture and is a reminder that the country’s rich and powerful often appear to operate with impunity. Younus’ ex-husband, Bilal Khar, was eventually acquitted, but many believe he used his connections to escape the law’s grip — a common occurrence in Pakistan.

More than 8,500 acid attacks, forced marriages and other forms of violence against women were reported in Pakistan in 2011, according to The Aurat Foundation, a women’s rights organization. Because the group relied mostly on media reports, the figure is likely an undercount.

Her husband was acquitted of the attacks, but his story is more than fishy. He has been accused of using his wealth and power to skirt the law:

Bilal Khar once again denied carrying out the acid attack in a TV interview following her suicide, suggesting a different man with the same name committed the crime. He claimed Younus killed herself because she didn’t have enough money, not because of her horrific injuries, and criticized the media for hounding him about the issue.

Younus lived in Italy, where the Italian government provided for her medical and daily living needs. Only a rich man in a country which subordinates women, a man who literally can get away with murder due to the amount of money and power he has would suggest that a victim of an acid attack killed herself due to being poor. What a way to dismiss Younus’s life.

Here is what Younus wrote of her suicide:

In her last message before committing suicide, Fakhra had written that she was committing suicide over the silence of law on the atrocities and insensitivity of Pakistani rulers.

Pakistan only recently criminalized acid attacks. By ‘recently”, I mean December 23rd, 2011 –  just over three months ago . I suppose this is not surprising, coming from a country with both an abysmal track record for human rights and the strictest laws and harshest criminalization for blasphemy. In Pakistan, 96% of the population are Muslim, and it’s the third most dangerous country for a woman to live in. The Hudood ordinance, which allowed women to be stoned to death for adultery if they were raped, was only amended in 2006, despite opposition from Islamic groups.

In a country where 82% of survey respondents favor stoning to death as punishment for adultery, it’s no wonder what most victims of acid attacks are women, most victimizers are husbands, and most husbands attack their wives for “dishonoring them“. Younus herself was sold by her mother to a man when she was 13.

Clearly, Islam is not having a very positive impact on humans rights in Pakistan.

The suicide of Younus is a double tragedy – and the religion of her country played a primary role in both her original injuries and her suicide.

The government/justice system of Pakistan could have given Younus justice. They didn’t. I doubt they will. That is a third tragedy.

Islam is a poison to human rights. Only when secular ethics creep in and successfully convince people that equality and freedom are words that have real meaning will we see human rights flourish.

Learn more about Christina and follow her @ziztur.

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  • Roger

    Christina, this is an important post, and your picture, while being lovely and bright, seems to be perhaps inappropriate matched with the seriousness and tragedy of the issues covered in the post.

    • Rory

      I also find the light blue color scheme totally inappropriate given the gravity of the message. A traditional black or gray would really be best. A muted earth tone, possibly, but none of the whimsy suggested by pastels. You may also wish to consider whether Times New Roman is excessively ornate in this case–a nice, sober sans serif is far more in keeping with your tone.

      • Roger

        Sure, big smiling face right next to the headline “On the suicide of Fakhra Younus”, same as font and color choices, absolutely.

        • Rory

          Well, I don’t want to minimize your concerns, so to start, maybe Christina should replace the current photo with one in which she is frowning and wearing a black veil, so that we can immediately appreciate the seriousness of the message. Otherwise there could be inappropriate levity.

    • http://www.facebook.com/ziztur Christina

      Maybe I should change my post picture for this post to an angry face one.

      • PossumRoadkill

        I think your photo is fine. Again, thanks for writing about this. It makes me sad that there are only two real comments about the article. This is a very sad and serious issue and one that I would have thought a non-Atheist and Atheists alike would share in their outrage. If this were being done by Catholics or Baptists I would be just as outraged.

        • http://www.facebook.com/ziztur Christina

          I agree with you – I expected more comments, and am pretty disappointed there aren’t more. JT and I were just discussing this the other day.

          Sometimes, the things he and I find really important, or the things he and I spend days writing, get a few comments, while “open NFL thread” gets hundreds. JT and I have tried to speculate about this.

          Maybe part of it has to do with the fact that if you totally agree with a post, you might not bother commenting, “oh yes, I agree, totally, this is sad” because you don’t feel like you’re adding to the conversation.

          The threads with the most comments tend to have disagreements in them, either disagreements with the original post or disagreements with something someone else has said in the comments. We rarely get a whole slew of “yes, I agree” comments.

          Also, if this were done by atheists, I would be outraged, too.

          • http://freethoughtblogs.com/biodork Brianne

            I hear this. I’m getting better at gauging what will get comments, but sometimes I’m way off base. I’ll post something that I think will generate a HUGE hullabaloo, and then…crickets. I think you’ve nailed it – this is a serious posts and you’ve done a great job at capturing the outrage, the sadness and the necessity of secularism to advance human rights. You’ve done it so well that perhaps there’s a feeling that we as a (I’m making a guess here) predominantly (not exclusively!) American, atheist, middle-class readership feel we can add to these types of posts.

  • Brianne Bilyeu

    Thanks for the article, Christina. By continuing to get the word out when these types of crimes occur, perhaps we can make them less accepted, less acceptable (i.e., we can’t denounce them if we don’t know they’re happening). I also didn’t know that acid attacks were only this recently criminalized in Pakistan. Oof.

  • PossumRoadkill

    Christina thanks for bringing this story to the attention of your readers. While some people believe that this problem only happens in Middle eastern countries, instances are on the rise in the Western Hemisphere the the most occurring in the United States and Canada. Education and support for abuse shelters and a 24 hr emergency hotline is needed in every community. We have both public and privately funded shelters with a 24 hr hotline available in our community so young women can escape the escalation of violence.

  • laura Kingston

    About Fakhra Younus. This horrific story I will never forget.

    What kind of people (men) could do such a horrific crime like acid throwing to anyone ? This crime makes Pakistan and other
    male dominated muslim societies look very ugly, vicious and cruel
    to the teatment of women. How would you go about changing these
    men ?? How could you protect these beautiful women? I am very
    grateful I do not live in Pakistan or India.