On February 1, 2014, Lucknow resident Resham Fatma (17) was on the way to her tuition class when her uncle (mother’s cousin), Riaz Ahmed, picked her up at knife-point. He drove her to a highway and threatened her to marry him. When she refused, he poured concentrated sulphuric acid over her head.
Despite suffering serious burns, Resham gathered all her strength and stopped an auto rickshaw which dropped her to a nearby police station. A year later, Resham is in the capital to receive the Bharat Award from President Pranab Mukherjee, accompanied by her immediate maternal uncle Irfan Ahmed Siddiqui, who she not surprisingly calls “achche mama”.
A confident Resham admires Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai and wants to become an IAS officer so that she will be able to implement laws and protect acid attack victims.
While life hasn’t been the same post February 1, the physical pain in moments that followed the attack were beyond a nightmare in Resham’s own words.
“I initially thought that he was pouring petrol to burn me. But my head started burning and my face was fuming. I closed my eyes to protect them, but my hands kept moving in self-defence… Some acid fell on his hands and he moved away. Pouncing on the opportunity, I escaped. For days after the incident, I was admitted in a hospital. I was administered 10 injections per day and then there was a surgery for grafting. My face, head and thighs are affected,” she said.
Within a week after the attack, Ahmed, who was attempting to fly out of the country to Dubai, was arrested in Mumbai. He had been staying with Resham’s family in Lucknow since she was two year old. A computer networking professional, Ahmed was based out of Dubai and would visit the family occasionally. It was on one such visit to India that the incident took place.
“He would take me out. Play with me… It was only when I was about 10-12 that I started avoiding him. He had been after me that I marry him. How could I? He was my uncle. He was elder to me by 22 years,” she said. It was through a newspaper report on December 28 that Resham learnt that Ahmed committed suicide in jail.
Staying with Siddiqui, who has adopted her since the incident, Resham said, “We sent a letter to the President, UP CM and even to Chief Justice Lodha, who was instrumental in hiking the compensation to acid attack victims.”
This year only 100 applications
With 24 children selected from about 100 applications received from across the country, Indian Council for Child Welfare (ICCW) is worried about the limited response the organisation has been getting. Veena Seth, Chairperson of the National Bravery Awards Committee, said the lack of awareness about the process of appplying for the awards has deprived many bravehearts.