Case Studies

Burn Violence Survivor resolved to fight back for justice

Her scars and blisters are the reminder of the injustice she brought upon herself. Today, Anjali Shrestha regrets not fighting for her rights. As she is healing mentally and physically, Anjali tells a common story she shares with thousands of burn survivors in Nepal.

Although women in Nepal face different types of violence, burn victims are leading the charts. If we consider the psychological trauma and the physical agony a burn survivor goes through, it's undeniable that burn violence is the worst form of cruelty.

 

 

Even more shocking fact is that most of the burn cases are mostly reported under domestic violence. The worst fear is not feeling safe at your own home. Anjali was married off at a very young age of 14. Coming from a financially weak background, she and her son was neglected by her husband. The ignorance soon turned into violence when her husband started to abuse her after drinking heavily.

Deeply hurt by the continuing incidents of mental and physical abuse, Anjali decided to leave her husband. She took a bold decision of staying with her lover without getting married which is frowned at in most of the societies.

Little did Anjali know that she was going to be a victim of a savagery that will change her life forever. Initially, Anjali and her lover had a good relation, even though he always dodged the question about their marriage.

Soon, they shifted with his parents. There started an endless tale of humiliation, torture and anguish for Anjali. Her lover's parents did not accept the idea of their son getting married to a woman who has a son and most importantly, was not a virgin.

They felt that their son deserved a woman who was ‘clean.’ They were influencing their son with their backward thoughts. Slowly he began to change his behavior as it started dawning upon him the fact that why should he take the responsibility of a married woman and her son when he could get a ‘virgin girl.’

Change in behavior, raising volume of voices and physical violence made Anjali realize that the relation was a mess now. But she still clung onto it as it was the last ray of hope for her and her son.

Anjali still remembers how a mere exchange of words ended up scarring her skin forever.

As the sparring match between them went out of control, the lover doused her with kerosene and threatened to light the matchstick while his hand was soaked in it as well.

Accidently lighting up the matchstick caught his hand on fire. As he was trying to save himself, a spark caught Anjali's body drenched in kerosene, causing almost 70% burns on her body.

As she was lying down the hospital bed, with no emotional or family support, Anjali’s lover threatened her that if she confessed the whole incident not an accident, she could lose her life. Witnessing an event that almost killed her and broke down her spirit, Anjali did not want justice but only her life back.

During the investigation Anjali told the police officers that the kerosene blew up and neither her lover nor her casual in-laws had anything to do with it, letting go of an opportunity to punish the man that gave her lifelong nightmares. After spending days at the hospital it started occurring to her that what she did was a huge mistake and soon she wanted to change her statement.

Seeing her condition and knowing the hectic procedures of law enforcement in Nepal, the hospital authorities convinced her to stick to her statement, as they reminded her that she has no family to support emotionally or financially and this was her last resort for survival.

This is the condition of countless women in Nepal, unaware of their rights and tolerating repression and exploitation in the name of survival. They do not believe in their own strength and even worse they do not have faith in the justice system.

Imagine how vulnerable and scared a woman must have felt that she decided to let go a person, who ruined her future, in exchange for her life. Not feeling safe at her home, a society that blames her for everything, family that abandons her due to social pressure and weak laws that fail to protect her or give her the justice she deserves, are few of the reasons why women in Nepal fear to fight.

 Even in Anjali’s case the media or the society does not feel sympathetic to her as she was with a man even after being married and having a son. Therefore Anjali’s story remains unheard and her justice awaits.

Anjali presently is under the care of Saathi’s women’s shelter. She is putting together the broken pieces of her spirit and now wants to fight back.

As I talked to Anjali I saw hope and strength in her eyes and she is ready to tell her story, without any fear, to the world. Saathi is looking into the manner in which Anjali’s case was investigated so that this time they can file a case solid enough to lock the culprit up.

Being the confident woman she is today, Anjali is only worried about her son as he is not getting the love and care from his parents which a child of his age needs the most.

Presently her son is with her father and often visits Anjali. His education is in trouble due to lack of proper funding. Her son had to go through so much at such a vulnerable age, even tackling the fear of losing his mother when she was in critical condition.

Anjali still hasn’t answered her son about what happened to her. All she

knows is that her son is not getting the childhood he deserves as his father refuses to take care of him and his mother is fighting battles of her own.

We hear countless poets describing the physical beauty of women. Indeed, women are the most beautiful creature that God has created. That is where we have to change our thinking, making women all about her pretty face, long hair and white skin. A woman is beyond her body. She is a mother, she creates, she fights and she loves.

Why do men gain satisfaction by ruining her beauty? Why do men believe that he is worthy of her love and respect if he has her body, just her body? Maybe they fail to realize that she survives in this male dominated world with her mind, not her body.

That she is also about courage and power, not just beauty. That she takes on every battle on her own. That she is not just a queen to her king. She is the emperors to her own empire. The number of acid attacks and burn victims are increasing, most of them being vengeance for rejection or humiliation.

The male ego feels superior when he tarnishes the beauty of a woman or takes control of her body. What they do not know is the fact that they can scar her skin, but never her soul. They can wreck her face, but never the beauty of her mind. They can hurt her body, but can never break down her spirit. They can throw fire on her, but can never put out the fire within her.

She will fight back. She will rise. With utmost poise and grit, every time, like she always does.

(Reflection of Unnimaya Jp Nair, an intern at Saathi, after she talked with the survivor) 

 

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