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

FP

When the long-haired and pretty Mumtaz turned 15, her father received a marriage proposal for her. He felt it was inappropriate and turned it down. She was later engaged to a 22-year-old youth working in the construction industry.

WAW workers believe that the armed attackers came that day to avenge the rejected proposal, deliberately waiting till Mumtaz's wedding was just a week away.

"The acid left a mass of scars," said her surgeon. "Her lower lip got stuck to her chin, upper lip stretched towards the nose, the neck was mangled, her scalp fell out in patches and her body was seriously burnt."

Mumtaz's was one of the first cases of acid attacks brought to WAW, said Nuzhat. Most crimes against women in Afghanistan involve honour killings within families, especially in case of love marriages, though attacks by outsiders such as on Mumtaz are on the rise, said WAW programme officer Huma Safi, speaking from Kabul.

Mumtaz was first taken to a hospital in Kunduz, then to Kabul by WAW, which has shelters in eight provinces in Afghanistan. That's where the plan for her surgical rehabilitation in India took shape.

The Indian connect wasn't incidental. WAW was founded in New York in 2001 by an Indian, Sunita Viswanath. Apart from medical expertise available in India, Safi said, the diplomatic goodwill between the two countries makes it easier to bring girls like Mumtaz for government-funded treatment.

Mumtaz began idolising Akshay Kumar after his 1999 film Jaanwar and remembers entire songs from his Khiladi series. When he died in his 2005 film Dosti, she shed copious tears. So when the actor personally called up to promise to meet her within minutes of being told of her wish, her surgeon promised to "prepare" her for the star appointment.

"I will rearrange the bandage beneath your lip so you can smile freely and fully," he told her. Her arms in a cast, her neck in an orthopaedic collar, an eyebrow yet not fully formed, Mumtaz never let that smile slip for the half-an-hour they spent with Akshay Kumar at his hotel. The actor ensured that it was a low-profile visit, without the usual media trappings.

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