Survivors - Full Project
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    Personal project from Bangladesh
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.
Name: Abdul Kader
Age: 48
Occupation: Muezzin
Attack date: 30/07/1987
Reason: Land dispute
Relation with the perpetrator: Cousin  
Legal condition of the case: Case filed in 1987 but no subsequent action taken.
Name: Monira Begum
Age: 24
Occupation: Student 
Attack date: 05/03/1998
Reason: Revenge for previous conflict
Relation with the perpetrator: Father’s employer
Legal condition of the case: The perpetrator has been punished by the rules of Bangladeshi law.
At the age of 9 years old, Monira’s life had already been decided for her. Her parents made arrangements with the parents of Swapan Gazi, agreeing that Monira would marry Swapan when she turned 18 and could legally marry. Swapan lived in the same neighbourhood as Monira and soon began pressuring her family to move her over sooner. When Swapan stole Monira’s father’s rickshaw – he refused to give away his daughter to Swapan.
That same night on 5th March 1998, Swapan threw a glass of acid on Monira’s face and changed her life forever. The left side of her face and the upper part of both her breasts were badly burnt by the corrosive acid. She was only in Class 3 when the incident occurred.
The Acid Survivors Foundation (ASF) arranged for Monira to travel to Spain for reconstructive surgery. On the day that Monira was scheduled to fly there was a transport strike, but her father pedalled his rickshaw nearly 30 km to Dhaka city so that his daughter could catch her flight. Monira came back from her surgery with renewed hope for her life. She has a bubbly and happy personality with no reservations about talking to people about her experiences. She worked with fellow survivor Peyara Begum in UNICEF’s “Helping Acid Survivors” project and acted as a peer counsellor for local survivors in Gazipur.
Currently, Monira’s family is still in poverty and living in a poor area in Tongi, just outside of Dhaka city. But Monira is working hard to create a better future for herself, through connections and her qualifications from working with ASF. She is now training with a local NGO on Mother and Child care services. Monira has enrolled in Tongi Public College and has just completed the first year of her Bachelor’s degree in Arts. Monira is also very talented at embroidery and crafts and she hopes with the help of ASF she will be able to start making and selling her clothes on a larger scale. Monira knows that, though life has thrown many obstacles in her path, with the support of ASF she will always be able to persevere.
Name: Shamim Sheikh
Age: 45
Occupation: Employee of ASF
Attack Date: 01/08/1984
Reason: Revenge for engaging in extra marital affair
Relation with the perpetrator: Husband of the woman who had extra marital affair with victim
What is the legal condition of the case: Mutually resolved.
Name: Mokammala Rita
Age: 43
Occupation: Employee of ASF
Attack Date: 16/04/1998
Reason: Victimized as her sister (Runa Laila another survivor) rejected love proposal 
Relation with the perpetrator: Neighbor
What is the legal condition of the case: The perpetrator has been punished by the rules of Bangladeshi Law.
Name: Jahanara Akhtar Parul
Age: 27
Occupation: Employee of ASF
Attack Date: 10/03/2001
Reason: Family related dispute
Relation with the perpetrator: Cousin
What is the legal condition of the case: Mutually resolved.
Name: Umma Aysha Siddike Nila
Age: 22
Occupation: Student
Attack date: 19/02/2008
Reason: Marital dispute
Relation with the perpetrator: Husband
Legal condition of the case: Case is in High Court for appeal but pending due to financial and bureaucratic problems.
Nila was only 15 years old when all of her face and parts of her upper arms were burnt by acid. Nila’s aspirations in life until that point had been simple; she had wanted to excel in her studies and one day dreamt of becoming an actress. She used to learn classical dancing and singing. Even today, four years after her attack, Nila’s delicate gestures show that Nila is still a dancer at heart. The after effect of the attack has been that Nila does not regularly learn dancing and singing and only practices during her leisure time. However, despite all adversities and even after missing 5 months of school because of her treatment, she took her Secondary School Certificate Examination (SSC) and achieved an A grade.
Nila had always been a pretty girl and when Akbar Hossain Jilhuq, a man who was 20 years older and visiting home from Saudi Arabia, saw her picture he was smitten and determined to marry her. Both Nila and her mother agreed that she was not old enough to marry and immediately refused the proposal offered, but through other family members Jilhuq convinced Nila’s father. Nila kept refusing even though her parents did not give weight to her wishes. Nila’s mother had said that Jilhuq had always held a grudge over the refusal. Eventually she was forced into marrying Jilhuq who left almost immediately for Saudi Arabia. They had often argued about Nila’s refusal to go abroad before he had left. Even though he kept in touch over the phone with Nila, their relationship never improved and she had never wanted to go abroad or stay at her in-laws home. She had remained for 3 months at her home when one day saying that he would only take her for a few days, her father-in-law came and took her to her in-laws home. Nila was not allowed to come back home after that and after 10 days her husband returned from abroad. They kept trying to force her to go abroad to which neither she nor her parents agreed. Nila’s father called Jilhuq and told him that he would come to take his daughter home the next morning. On the same day in the depth of the night, 18th February 2008, Jilhuq threw acid and burnt Nila.
Looking around Nila’s room now you immediately know that she is a studious girl. A large study table that is piled with Business and Management books dominates the room. She is doing her Bachelor of Business Honours in Finance and is currently in her second year of studies. The Acid Survivors Foundation (ASF) field team went and visited her at her home in Sirajganj and also met her again at the Manab Mukti Shangstha (MMS) where regular community clinics are held for survivors. MMS is an affiliate organization of ASF that assists acid victims and survivors and provides a contact point to bring victims to ASF’s Jibon Tara Clinic in Dhaka city for treatment. Nila addresses the crowd and introduces herself, everyone already knows her though because she has become a focal representative for survivors in Sirajganj. Nila has been working for over 3 years with SHARP another NGO that along with ACTION AID organizes counselling meetings and other forms of support for survivors. This has allowed Nila to stay in touch with her community and fellow survivors and grow into a promising future. She has become a pivotal connection point for ASF to the Sirajganj survivors and acts as a spokesperson for them.
As Nila prepares to leave the MMS meeting and begins putting on her hijab, we ask her if she covers herself to hide her scars? She says no, she has always worn the hijab and it’s a question of comfort and not concealing anything. She is content and happy with the person that she has become despite her attack. Nila reveals that she still hopes to settle down, fall in love, have children and openly embrace all the opportunities that life offers her. Nila’s perpetrator Jilhuq is now in jail, but her case on appeal in the High Court is pending because of various financial and bureaucratic problems.
Name: Monjurul Alam Mojnu
Age: 48
Occupation: Day laborer
Attack date: 15/05/1985
Reason: Marital dispute 
Relation with the perpetrator: Neighbor
What is the legal condition of the case: Running.
Name: Shamol
Age: 14
Occupation: Student
Attack date: 18/02/2002
Reason: Mother’s refusal of marriage proposal from perpetrator (i.e. was not main target)
Relation with the perpetrator: Neighbor
What is the legal condition of the case: Running.
Name: Asma Aktar
Age: 25
Occupation: Employee of ASF
Attack Date: 17/09/2002
Reason: Family related dispute
Relation with the perpetrator: Neighbor
What is the legal condition of the case: Perpetrator has been punished by the rules of Bangladeshi law.
Name: Selina Khatun
Age: 42
Occupation: Housewife
Attack date: 06/06/1995
Reason: Refusal of love/marriage
Relation with the perpetrator: Cousin
What is the legal condition of the case: Running.
Name: Monirujjaman Masud
Age: 27
Occupation: Employee of ASF
Attack Date: 28/10/1998
Reason: Mother rejected marriage proposal of perpetrator (i.e. was not main target)
Relation with the perpetrator: Neighbor 
What is the legal condition of the case: Mutually resolved
Name: Popy Rani Das
Age: 22
Occupation: None, currently resides in ASF Hospital.
Attack date: 07/09/2009
Reason: Dowry
Relation with the perpetrator: Husband
Legal condition of the case: Case is active
Popy lived with her mother and grandmother in a rented house in Kamalpur, Kishoreganj. Her father passed away, so she and her mother had to work to earn a living. When she was 21 years old, Popy married her husband Prodeep with her own will, after having a relationship with him. Before getting married, Prodeep told Popy that he didn’t need any dowry, he just wanted Popy. But right after the marriage took place, Prodeep demanded a dowry from Popy’s family.
Popy and her mother were both working at a private hospital. They were saving up their hard earned money for the future. When Prodeep demanded the dowry, they used their life savings to pay the dowry, which was a total of Tk 2,00,000. But this did not satisfy Prodeep. Popy’s mother told Prodeep to reconsider, because he had seen with his own eyes that this was the total amount available in their bank balance and the whole amount had been paid to Prodeep.
Prodeep’s greed was still present after draining Popy’s family’s life savings. He then demanded more money as well as 60 grams of gold, which together was an impossible sum of money for Popy or her mother to manage. Popy told her husband that there was no way she could manage such a large amount of money.
This was when the violence started. Prodeep became extremely angry at Popy, and beat her on a regular basis. Then Prodeep told Popy that if he married someone else, he would be able to get more money than she could give him. Seeing Popy as an obstacle to marrying another woman, Prodeep decided to take matters into his own hands. One night when Popy was suffering from fever, she asked Prodeep for a glass of water. Instead of handing her water, he handed her a glass full of acid. Unaware because acid is a clear liquid that looks just like water, Popy drank the acid. This caused severe damage in the inside of Popy’s mouth and her throat. Prodeep, thinking that this was enough to kill his wife, immediately fled after Popy drank the acid.
However, Popy was too strong to be killed by a sip of acid. The incident occurred in September 2009, after which Popy was taken to a local hospital in Kishoreganj. Popy’s cousin brought her to ASF in February 2010. She received medical treatment in ASF hospital. The nature of her injury meant that she had trouble ingesting food with her mouth and had to be fed with a pipe that directly went to her stomach.
Popy and her mother spent almost two years at the ASF Hospital, so they lost their jobs and their house in the village.  A case was filed in the local police station but there were no updates. When ASF contacted the police station, they could not provide any information on whether the case went to court or the whereabouts of the perpetrator.
Popy was given Tk 30,000 as rehabilitation assistance in May 2011. Popy’s mother went back to Kishoreganj in November 2011 but Popy stayed back in ASF Hospital because she needed to be fed with a pipe.
Popy got admitted to Open University in April 2012 and was provided with Education Support. Popy still resides in the ASF Hospital because of the continuous care she needs, especially with food intake. She has a very thin stature because of her inability to eat and enjoy food. Popy spends her time helping ASF staff and is also known for her talent in embroidery work. 
Name: Shamsun Nahar
Age: 29
Occupation: Housewife
Attack Date: 09/03/2006
Reason: Land Dispute
Relation with the perpetrator: Relative
What is the legal condition of the case: Running
Name: Anita bala
Age: 30
Occupation: Farmer
Attack date: 18/02/2002
Reason: Refusal of marriage proposal
Relation with the perpetrator: Neighbor
What is the legal condition of the case: Running.
Name: Runa Laila
Age: 30
Occupation: Employee of ASF
Attack date: 16/04/1998
Reason: Rejection of love affair
Relation with the perpetrator: Neighbor
What is the legal condition of the case: The perpetrator has been punished by the rules of Bangladeshi Law
Name: Hasen Ali
Age: 58
Occupation: Farmer
Attack Date: 03/03/1996
Reason: Neighborhood dispute (over stolen bicycle)
Relation with the perpetrator: Neighbor
What is the legal condition of the case: Running
Name:  Peyara Begum
Age: 43
Occupation: Housewife
Attack Date: 17/12/1998
Reason:  Refusal to engage in affair
Relation with the perpetrator: Private tutor of her children
What is the legal condition of the case: Perpetrator has been punished by the rules of Bangladeshi law.
Name: Ayesha Akter
Age: 27
Occupation: Employee of ASF
Attack Date: 26/04/2000
Reason: Rejection of marriage proposal
Relation with the perpetrator: Distant grandfather
What is the legal condition of the case: Perpetrator has been punished by the rules of Bangladeshi law
Video by Tai Klan
Color grading by Honey Biba Beckerlee
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