The true face of a victim
Every year people in Bangladesh are disfigured beyond recognition by acid attacks. The victims are literally scarred for life. Award-winning photographer Ken Hermann and video journalist Tai Klan visited Bangladesh and returned with a striking series of photos and a documentary that emphasizes the resilience of the mutilated victims
It is not the almost indistinguishable scar tissue at the left corner of her mouth that tells the true story of a disaster. Rather, it is her dark eyes that meet the spectator with a stern look.
Popy Rani Das was just 22 years old, when her life changed irreversibly. The previous year she had been married off to a man that initially seemed to be madly in love with her. But soon after the wedding her husband became obsessed with obtaining more money from Popy’s mother. Coming from a poor family savings had already been used on Popy’s dowry. In response, her husband became gradually more violent.
One night when she asked him for something to drink, he decided to taken an irrevocable revenge and handed his thirsty wife a glass of acid. Today, only a small scar, like a drop of acid etched into the skin in the corner of her mouth, reveals the price she paid for her family’s poverty and the subsequent cruelty of her husband. Her internal organs are severely damaged, and she is now fed through a tube.
New dreams and hopes
To those who are victims of acid attacks in Bangladesh, dreams and hopes are splintered in seconds. Medical treatments and surgeries are mere dreams beyond their means. Instead they go on living with marks of cruelty literally branded into their faces and bodies. Stigmatization follows, and rebuilding life and setting new goals for the future require both determination and strength.
Umma Aysha Siddike Nila is a woman of such qualities. She was still a teenager when her husband, then in his thirties, drowned her face with acid, because she refused to follow him his home in Saudi Arabia. The acid has left an irrevocable trail across her beautiful face and forever put an end to her dreams of becoming an actor and dancer. Still, Nila refuses to see herself as a victim.
"I have nothing to hide. I look at myself and love myself for who I have become in spite of what I have suffered," she says.
Nila has devoted her life to support other acid victims in her community. It is her contribution the enduring fight to reduce the number of acid attacks in Bangladesh and the culture that perpetuates the attacks.
Most acid attacks directed against women and children
Since 1999, more than 3,100 people in Bangladesh have been disfigured by acid. Thanks to the advocacy work done by the Dhaka-based NGO Acid Survivor Foundation only 71 cases was recorded last year – a reduction by almost 85% from just 10 years ago..
The vast majority of victims are young women under the age of 35 who are mutilated by men they already know. Typically, attacks are motivated by suspicions of infidelity, rejection of marriage offers, demands for dowry, and disputes over land. One in four victims is a child.
SURVIVORS is a story about people, not victims
The multimedia production SURVIVORS by photographer Ken Hermann and video journalist Tai Klan consists of a series of portraits and a documentary about the people behind the portraits. It is the result of Ken Hermann and Tai Klan’s visit to Dhaka, Bangladesh, where they met with victims and entered their life worlds. The story as it unfolds in photos and on film capture the personal strength of people whose lives were radically changed when they became victims of other people’s hunger for revenge.
"We wanted to create a visual universe with emphasis on the beauty of each face rather than simply displaying these people as freaks. Portraits of acid victims often create a strong reaction from audiences. In contrast we aspired to reveal the person behind the scars by focusing on the fragility and gracefulness of the people in front us," says photographer Ken Hermann.
Word by Suzette Frovin