KARACHI: As 21-year old Muhammad Abid recovers from his plastic surgery at Civil Hospital’s Burns Ward, his father is hoping this may be the last round of surgery. He is especially hopeful this time because a team of foreign doctors, who are visiting Karachi, have performed the surgery.
‘Abid has been suffering for too long now. It’s punishing. For him and my family both…we are tired. I really hope he gets better this time,’ says Muhammad Haroon, Abid’s father. Seven years ago, Abid’s qari (madrassah teacher) had splashed acid on his face. His crime was that he rejected sexual demands from his teacher.
Abid was at home when his teacher splashed acid through a window in his bedroom. The incident took place in the summer of 2002 when he was only 14. ‘The lights were out so Abid had left his bedroom window open and was lying on his bed by the window without a shirt. Suddenly his teacher, who also lived in our neighbourhood, appeared and within seconds threw acid on Abid’s face and fled. Abid couldn’t react immediately, but my other two children who were in his room identified the teacher since they went to the same madrassah,’ explains Haroon.
It was after the incident that Abid revealed to his parents that the qari had been involved in sexual abuse of students at his madrassah in Orangi Town that Abid was witness to. When the teacher approached Abid, not only did he warn him to stay away, but threatened that he would soon lodge a complaint against his teacher at the local police station. ‘But before that could happen, the qari decided to teach my son a lesson.’
Abid lost both his eyes in the incident and doctors said he sustained about 69 per cent burn wounds on his face, neck and chest.
Although a case against the qari was registered at the Mominabad Police Station, Orangi Town, and the teacher was arrested, he is yet to be tried in the court of law for want of evidence. ‘The eyewitnesses in this case, Haroon’s two children, are still minors in the eyes of law and their statement cannot be accepted,’ explains social worker, Muhammad Ali of Roshni Helpline, who has been assisting the family since 2002.
Ali added that despite the mental trauma the family had been undergoing at the time, they managed to have the teacher imprisoned for five years without a trial. But he was eventually released on bail and is currently missing.
The years that followed saw Abid move from one hospital to another for plastic surgery as he was unable to talk properly or swallow food. ‘We had made peace with his visual impairment, but we couldn’t let him survive on fluids all his life,’ recalls Haroon, a taxi driver by profession who hails from District Mansehra in NWFP.
The father of five says he is tired of battling with the police, government and doctors. When the incident took place, Haroon had sought the help of then prime minister Mir Zafarullah Jamali. ‘I wanted to take my son to the LaserVision Institute in Athens, Greece, and needed financial support from the government. When I met the former PM, he had assured me of help but I did not hear from him again.’
However, Abid was fortunate enough to have won the support of the local media, as a result of which his case was highlighted by a section of the European press. ‘The story had a great impact there and the writer was able to generate some funds with the help of the local community to bear the travel expenses of Haroon’s family,’ informed Ali.
Abid underwent a cornea transplant surgery that partially helped restore his vision, but he was soon deprived of the artificial cornea. ‘After our return, we had been visiting some local doctors for a follow-up who insisted that the artificial cornea needed to be ‘cleaned clinically’ and my son had to undergo another brief surgery,’ claimed the father. ‘We later found out that Abid’s cornea had been retracted as he lost his sight again.’
Since Haroon did not have the courage to face the police officials again – who had already harassed him enough over the years – he chose to remain silent and did not file a complaint against the doctor. ‘You see, no one cares about the poor in our country. Not even the so-called people’s government. The poor are left to be harassed by the police and there is only so much we can take.’
But Haroon’s patience paid off when four days ago he was invited by the Executive Director of the Burns Center at Civil Hospital Karachi where his case has been registered. ‘A team of doctors from the House of Charity had been on their regular visit to Pakistan for the treatment of children with severe burns. When they came to Karachi, I mentioned Abid’s case to them and although they have a fixed schedule of the patients they will treat, they agreed to make an exception in Abid’s case and performed his surgery yesterday,’ Dr Dabir Rehman told Dawn.
The House of Charity is a non-profit, charitable organisation in Texas, USA, and has been working in collaboration with surgeons at the Shalamar Hospital in Lahore since 1996. ‘These surgeons visit Pakistan twice a year and provide free-of-cost treatment to patients,’ explains Dr Nabi Noor, a plastic surgeon at Shalamar Hospital.
It is a bit early to observe the results of Abid’s surgery, but doctors say the operation was a success and in a few days time, he will be able to talk and eat properly. ‘I sent my children to the madrassah hoping that they would receive religious education for free. But I did not imagine that I would end up paying a heavy price for this later.’