Burnt and beaten, 19-yr-old Afghan girl rebuilds life in Delhi hospital

FP

"What will urge you to live?" Mumtaz's surgeon asked her after she attempted suicide a few times. "A meeting with Akshay Kumar," said the 19-year-old Afghan girl, burnt in an acid attack, recovering from a series of facial and body reconstruction surgeries in a Delhi hospital.

On December 2, Mumtaz's wish was fulfilled when she and her 15-year-old sister, Farhanas, met the actor while he was in the capital to promote his upcoming film Khiladi 786. Mumtaz, who speaks Hindi fluently thanks to the popularity of Bollywood and Indian TV serials back home, was so starstruck that she couldn't utter a word in Kumar's presence.

That she was there at all, sitting and smiling with the star, was a miracle enough.

Last year in November, a week before her wedding, seven men had barged into their village home in Kunduz in northern Afghanistan. They beat up her father, tied him in a bag and dumped him in a stable, and attacked her mother. When a scared Mumtaz covered herself with a blanket, the attackers went and got bottles of acid, emptying them upon her till her skin began to melt. Later, she was hit on the head and lost consciousness.

When she came to, she realised there was worse. Her frantic flailing of arms had splashed drops of acid on her two younger sisters, scarring them too.

As Mumtaz recounted her story, sitting on the hospital bed, Farhanas listened in absolute silence. She was discharged recently after a reconstruction surgery on an eyelid and re-grafting of skin on her arm.

Mumtaz was born and raised in a poor household as one of eight children — she has four sisters and three brothers. She dropped out of school early as studies didn't interest her, learning instead household chores, specifically how to cook rice. "An Afghani girl is never considered 'good' till she can make extraordinary rice," said Muzhgan Nuzhat. A final-year MBBS student in Kabul, Nuzhat is also a social worker with the Women for Afghan Women (WAW), a grassroots organisation working for child and human rights in the war-ravaged country.

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