I Was Happy I'd Been Burned

By: Jennifer Campion

  Shirin Juwaley, 24, from Bombay, thought her dreams had come true when it was arranged she marry Mubin Mulla, 28, a handsome man from a good background.

  Shirin's happiness was not to last. Shirin found out Mubin was abusive and she decided to leave him. Within months she had walked out on her new bridegroom. Mubin was very angry; his retribution was to disfigure her for life with sulphuric acid.


  Publicly shamed in Bombay for deserting her marriage, Shirin was almost grateful that Mubin scarred her pretty face. She was able to prove that Mubin was a vicious monster.

I married on St Valentines Day, 1998, full of many beautiful dreams and aspirations. My husband Mubin was an educated man with prospects and, on the two occasions we met before our wedding day, he seemed gentle and caring. I couldn't have been happier.

Mubin had a good job as an engineer for a multinational company and I also had a successful career as a marketing executive for the computer company Compaq. The future looked so bright and full of promise. Our families, who arranged our marriage, believed we were a perfect match, but within weeks the fairytale was shattered. I discovered that my handsome husband was physically abusive.


Shirin Prior To Burn Injury

In the privacy of our home he treated me with absolutely no respect and I felt ashamed and insulted. I knew I could not put up with his violent behavior and, after he abused me in front of some of our relatives, I moved back in with my mother.

It was very upsetting - I'd only been married two months - but I couldn't stay any longer. Many women in India are trapped in miserable relationships, but I was determined not to live my life that way. Mubin was furious and deeply humiliated by my destertion and when I found the courage to ask him for a divorce, he said I'd have to pay him £2,000. There was no way I could afford such a huge amount and this made him even angrier.

Living back at mother's flat, was hard because I was now a social outcast in my own neighborhood. A woman who'd left the marital home so soon after the wedding must be evil - that was the general view - and no one would speak to me or even look in my direction. I was completely ostracized.

Shirin After Burn Injury

On the 28th of May, I was on the way home and had just reached the apartment block when I saw a figure loom out from behind some bushes. I realized it was Mubin and that he was holding a container. The next moment I felt something wet on my face and arms and then my skin seemed as though it were on fire. I know the liquid must be acid and the pain was excruciating. I screamed and screamed but no one came to help.

My face seemed as if it was melting, but I started praying: "Please God, not my eyes, save my eyes." I forced myself to run upstairs and when my mother saw me she started screaming, too. My skin was smoking and she was terrified to move but, as I'd studied chemistry, I knew exactly what to do. I rushed to the sink and doused my face and body with water.

Mum ran to get an ambulance and I was taken to the local hospital. The wounds were cleaned, which was agonizing, and then I was covered in potato peel to help moisturize the burns. Miraculously my sight was saved, even though all the skin surrounding my eyes had been burned away.

I stayed in hospital for three months while the burns healed and then I had some large skin grafts taken from my thighs and back. My face, chest and arms were all terribly damaged, but at the time, I believed I'd got off fairly lightly. It wasn't until I left the hospital and the scars had darkened that I realised how disfigured I really was.


I know it sounds crazy, but in those early days I was happy that I'd been burned. Everyone had looked down on me for leaving my husband - I was the one who seemed like the bad person - but now they could see what he'd done to me. I felt vindicated. At last, I thought, they'll realise that I married a monster. No one would expect me to go back to him - in fact; I was told he'd fled the country.

Shirin After Surgeries

I tried to live a normal life, but when I went out I frightened everyone. People would shrink away and children would run with fear, which really hurt. I wanted them to realise that I was still the same Shirin inside, even if I now looked grotesque. In the end I stayed at home all day, watching TV and eating snack after snack. If I couldn't avoid going somewhere, I'd cover my face with a burka to avoid the stares.

I knew I couldn't live the rest of my life hiding away, so after a couple of years I joined Burn Survivors Throughout the World, Inc.. I wrote my story for their website and in June 2001 I was invited to attend conference in America to talk about domestic violence in India. I jumped at the chance, even though my confidence had been destroyed. The people I met couldn't have been kinder. I started to feel so comfortable that I began going for walks without wearing the burka. It was wonderful to feel the fresh air on my face again.

I attended several seminars and one day a reconstructive plastic surgeon approached me and asked if he could repair my face. I had to explain that I had no money to pay for any operations, but told me not to worry about that.

Instead of going back to India after three weeks as planned, I ended up staying for almost two years. During that time, I had five operations on my face to rebuild my nose and improve my features. The most wonderful thing of all was that I was given back my smile.

I still shiver when I think of what happened to me that night but, despite everything, I feel so lucky. I'll always be eternally grateful to all the wonderful people who helped me and I don't feel bitter towards men. One day I'd love to get married again, but I don't know if that'll happen. It'll be hard for a man to love me now that I no longer have a beautiful face.

Acid Attacks Are A Growing Problem

The charity Burn Survivors Throughout The World, Inc. (visit www.burnsurvivorsttw.org ) says the exact figures of attacks using hydrochloric or sulphuric acid in India are difficult to ascertain as many of these attacks go unrecorded in rural areas. However, evidence suggests that the number of these attacks is increasingly at an alarming rate. In 2000, 222 attacks were reported. In 2001 it was 314. In 2002, 485 attacks were recorded, an increase of 42 percent. Almost 80 percent of the victims were female.