Sultana was in the final trimester of her pregnancy when the savage crime was committed.

17 years after husband cut off her nose and lips woman battles for other women
news Phenomenal Women Tuesday, December 01, 2015 - 14:21

Sultana Yasmeen’s journey to hell and back began from the first week of her marriage. Unwilling to work himself, her husband didn’t agree with Sultana earning a livelihood either. He loathed a working woman so much that he cut her nose and lips off.

Seventeen years later, Sultana works with children in schools and women in 20 bastis in Hyderabad’s old city through Shaheen Women's Resource and Welfare Association.

She and her colleagues talk to the women about domestic violence, child marriage, how to use the RTI, sexual harassment both at home and on the streets. Through regular visits to schools and collaboration with government officials, they ensure that children do not drop out and are also not married off before legal age. Wherever required, they also provide legal aid.

Her decision to do this work has not gone down well with the men in Talabkatta area of the old city where she lives. In 2013, a rowdy-sheeter from her locality assaulted her and she got him arrested.

“Women voicing opinion remains unacceptable to men and most often because they are taught to feel that way. Gender discrimination is the most overlooked form of violence” she said.

The terrible night

Sultana was in the final trimester of her pregnancy when the savage crime was committed. The doctors, Sultana said, took a while to decide whether to perform the caesarian-section first or the skin-grafting.

“It was the night of March 8, 1998. We didn’t even fight that day. All I remember is being hit by something on my head,” said Sultana.

When she woke up from a coma 20 days later, she recalls running a hand on her belly for reassurance that pregnancy was intact.

However, neither her family nor her in-laws were to be found by her side and she missed them sorely.

"Aisi ladki hamare ghar mein nahin reh sakti (We can’t have such a girl at our place) is what they told me. My brother said he would let me stay if I don’t file a case against my husband,” she said.

Sultana learned the attendant that Sayeeduddin had used a kitchen knife and tailoring scissors. That he had surrendered immediately. And that he got bail.

Recovering at Osmania General Hospital, Sultana found it difficult to deal with her reality. "My upper lip was missing, I had two holes for a nose and there was this days-old baby in my lap. I had no idea how to raise him," she recalls.

For a long time (she doesn't remember the exactly), she was fed through a pipe. Not being able to breathe and eat normally was torturous. Equally worrying to her was the fear that her son would get scared looking at her deformed face. "Every time I saw my face in the mirror, I had to control the urge to kill myself," she narrated.

Abusive since the beginning

Sultana was married at the age of 17 to Mohammed Sayeeduddin who was around 15 years older to her. The emotional and physical abuse Sultana suffered was evident from the very first week.

“He took me to Purana Pul (a heritage bridge over Musi river in Hyderabad) one day and asked me to jump off,” said Sultana. On another occasion, he got a bottle of acid and kept it at home to threaten her.

There was no love, trust or any kind of financial support from him, she said, adding she wouldn't have been allowed to walk out of the relationship. Sultana says she never found a reason to live with him. Neither her family nor in-laws could understand her reasons for demanding a separation.

Sayeeduddin owned a tailoring shop, which remained mostly shut until Sultana took charge.

It infuriated him, but running the shop was a necessity, not an exercise to gratify ego, she said.

"A week before the incident, I had gone to live with his sister, he came down to her place and convinced me he will change. I trusted him," Sultana said.

Hounded for fighting injustice

Eight surgeries were performed between 1998 and 2005. The physical pain has reduced, but the memories are still afresh and haunt her.

As Sultana recollects the past, it is apparent that not just her family and in-laws, but even the media endorsed patriarchy.

“A few reporters indulged in character assassination while I was in a coma. A section of the media cooked-up stories about my past. The harassment went on for some time,” said Sultana.

Sayeeduddin died in November 2014, but while alive he was arrested many times, served a short sentence and got out. He wasn’t found in the locality for a few years and was said to be under medication for “some mental illnesses.”

For the first time in a three-hour interview, there were tears in Sultana's eyes.

“While alive, he attempted to kidnap my son thrice. I wanted my son to be safe and he seemed safer when not here (with me),” Sultana said.

Sultana emerged a survivor and is referred to as ‘beta (son)’ by her family, which she doesn’t approve of. And rightly so.

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