The Story of Zahida Parveen
By Liz Weltch
How could a human being - let alone a husband - disfigure
in this way? It happened to Zahida Parveen, and it happens to
thousands of other female victims of "honor violence"
each year in
It was a seemingly ordinary night three years ago when Zahida
Parveen, then 30, was asleep
in a room with her two small children.
Her family was poor, but she was happy with her life with Mehmood
husband of four years. All that changed in an instant
when she was forced out of bed, viciously attacked and left for
her face mutilated beyond recognition. Her attacker: her 35 -
year-old husband, who did it because he was convinced his
having an affair.
As awful as this incident sounds, it's even worse when you consider
that it's not
uncommon. Parveen lives in Pakistan, a country where
such attacks on women - known as honor violence - take place too
There's a saying in Pakistan that honor is like a person's
nose. "If a person dishonors you, they say that person has cut
your nose," explains Riffat Hassan, Ph.D., a Pakistani-born Islamic
theologian who teaches at the University of
Kentucky. "It's a metaphor, but in Pakistan people actually do
it," Parveen is living proof of that. Today,
with her husband n
jail in Pakistan, Parveen agreed to give Glamour an exclusive
interview and retell her tragic tale.
Attack with no warning
Recuperating from her reconstructive surgery, Parveen sits curled up
on a leather chair in
the suburban Maryland home of Nasim Ashraf,
M.D., the kidney specialist and Pakistani expatriate who arranged
to have her face reconstructed. Shakir, Parveen's
younger brother, is perched protectively beside her.
like a child. At just 4'11", her 78-pound frame
practically disappears beneath her black floral shalwar kameez, the
pants and ankle-length dress that is Pakistan's national
dress. A black-and-white-checked scarf is wrapped loosely around
head, and every so often it slips down to reveal the wavy black
hair covering the severed lobes that were once ears. Her
eyes are just a week old, the two brown-pupiled glass globes held
tentatively in place by a few thin strips
of surgical tape affixed
to the outer lids. A gauze pad is taped to the bridge of what was
once her nose, now a gnarled
mass of scar tissue marked by two
Aseela Ashraf, Dr. Ashraf's wife, arrives and pat Parveen gently
her bony back before sitting down. The two women have become close
and Parveen now has two people she trusts to translate
and fill in
details that are too painful for her to talk about.
Parveen's first arranged marriage took place when
she was about 16,
which is common in Pakistan. Luckily, Parveen liked her firs
husband. "We had a very good time together,"
she says. "He was a
decent person." But it took many frustrating years of trying before
she became pregnant. "When I
found out I was with child, I was so
happy. Then my husband died of a heart attack before our son was
born," she remembers
matter-of-factly, as if tragedy is an accepted
fact of her life.
Parveen moved back in with her mother to deliver
the child. At
first, she didn't want to remarry. But soon, a local matchmaker
approached Parveen's family about Mehmood
Iqbal, a barber living in
a nearby village. "I was excited t meet him," Parveen says,
shrugging her tiny shoulders.
She married him, taking her one-year-
old son to live with her new husband, and three years later, she
gave birth to
a daughter. My husband was fine the first four years
of our marriage, " Parveen insists. "If there was something wrong
him, I would not have stayed." The one thing that struck her
was that Iqbal was unusually quiet. "He would only sit and
she recalls, as if that might explain why he came undone. But when
asked why she thought her husband went on
to commit such a heinous
act, Parveen answers, "It was the devil."
Actually, honor killings are part of the fabric
of Pakistani married
life. "Once a woman is married, it's culturally believed that she
belongs to her husband and is
supposed to be obedient - her behavior
reflects on him," explains Sheila Dauer, director of Amnesty
Women's Human Rights Program. Though honor
violence takes place in other predominantly Islamic countries -
Jordan, Egypt and Turkey - Pakistan has received the most
attention for these crimes. More than 850 women in Punjab ( a
region) were victims of honor killings in 1998 and 1999
alone, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.
International estimates that many more cases go unreported.
Honor violence comes in many forms: Women have been shot, burned,
and mutilated with razors, axes and knives. The causes
vary as well, from having affairs to asking for a divorce to talking
a man who's not a family member.
Left For Dead
Parveen, however, says she had no inkling that her husband was
Any yet, on the night of December 20, 1998, he woke her
and ordered her into the common room of their three-room home in
a rural village about an hour north of Islamabad, Pakistan's
capital. There, Parveen, who was then three months pregnant
Iqbal's second child (but still weighed less than 100 pounds), saw a
rope hanging from the raters, Iqbal, a stocky
man, ordered Parveen
to lock the bedroom door, but she refused, worrying that the
children might wake up and call for
her. "The kids are dead to you,"
he said. "You are no longer their mother."
Holding her captive, Iqbal accused Parveen
of having an affair.
Parveen insisted that she had never been unfaithful to him, but
Iqbal didn't listen. Instead, he
gagged her, bound her feet and
hands and hung her upside down from the ceiling. As he beat her
with a wooden ax handle,
blood began to drip from her arms and
legs. Then Iqbal, a barber by profession, traded his ax for a
razor. He cut off
the lower lobes of her ears, then sliced her nose
at the base. "He next used a metal rod to poke out my eyes," she
"and then put his finger inside each socket to make sure
nothing was left." Parveen hooks her skinny index finger in the
makes a half-circle motion for effect and then holds her head
with both hands as if the memory hurts. When Iqbal finished
her, he cut the rope, causing Parveen to fall to the
floor like a limp rag doll "He left me for dead," Parveen says, "
then he took our daughter and left." Parveen crawled across the
floor, found a blanket, wrapped it around herself and passed
When she came to, the next morning, she heard her son crying.
Realizing he was locked in the bedroom, Parveen
began to shout for
help. Two neighbors quickly arrived and, seeing the bloody mess,
sent for the police. "They saw everything,"
Parveen explains. "The
blood, the rope,. And I gave them a full statement." The worst
moment, however, was when Parveen's
son saw his mother's body caked
in blood, her face mutilated and oozing. He crouched in the corner
and began to wail.
There was nothing she could do to comfort him.
That morning, Parveen's son went to stay with her mother, and
was eventually taken to a government hospital. He story was
published in two local newspapers, prompting Tehmina Daultana,
the Minister for Social Welfare, Women Development and Special
Education, to visit Parveen in the hospital. Parveen
Daultana with Iqbal's arrest, a rare occurrence given that few men
who engage in honor are ever punished. "She
threatened the police
station," Parveen explains. "She said, 'If you don't find him and
put him in jail, I'll have you
all fired.'" Several days later,
Iqbal was arrested at his sister's home and incarcerated without
bail, and Parveen's
daughter went to live with Parveen's mother and
son. When Parveen heard the news, she was happy for the first time
the horrific incident. But that moment was fleeting.
Will I get my sight back?
The first few months in the hospital
were difficult. Parveen had
to wait for the cuts o her tongue to heal before she could eat solid
food and her mutilated
face throbbed with pain. The Crisis Center -
an organization that offers medical, legal and psychological counsel
abused women - added her to its long list of tragic clients in
need of help. One of the many ways the Crisis Center helps
these women is by financing reconstructive surgery.
The Center made arrangement for Parveen to get a new nose, but when
found out she wouldn't get her sight back, Parveen refused the
operation. "What's the point of any surgery if I will never
to see my children again?" she lamented
Parveen has never seen her youngest daughter, whom she gave birth
in the hospital in July 1999. Afar seven months in the hospital,
Parveen finally left to live with her mother and
she was happy to be home, it was a rude awakening. Her face
resembled a ghoulish mask. "Her daughter
was afraid of her, and
that really hurt Zahida," Aseela Ashraf explains. "She told me that
her daughter refused to sleep
with her." Parveen's son, who was
seven, was more understanding, but he would often come home in tears
after other children
teased him about his mother's condition. "It
broke her heart," Dr. Ashraf explains. Though Parveen rarely
when she did, she often overheard people wondering
aloud what she had done to deserve the way she looked.
More than a year after the attack, Parveen's case went to trial.
Parveen went to court only to testify,
concealing her face with dark
glasses and a scarf wrapped around her head. On the witness stand,
Parveen told her story.
"She was very brave," remembers Nahida
Mahboob Elahi, a volunteer lawyer for the Crisis Center who headed
case. "You should have seen the look of surprise on her
husband's face. I don't think he realized she'd have enough courage
come forward." Iqbal maintained his innocence throughout,
claiming he was forced to act as he did to save his honor. Parveen
present for his testimony, but she recalls, "I did hear his
voice in the crowd one day. Every time I remember that moment,
On July 21, 2000, Mehmood Iqbal was convicted of attempted
murder. "He got five years for attempt
to kill, three yeas for
cutting off her nose, three years for gouging out her eyes, one and
a half years for her ears
and one and a half years for cutting her
tongue, " Elahi explains. "All of the offenses run consecutively,
up to 14 years." Though 14 years sounds like a slap on
the wrist considering the crime, in Pakistan it's considered a life
explains Dr. Ashraf, as life spans are shorter and prison
conditions harsher than in the United States. In addition to
time, Iqbal was fined for each of Parveen's mutilated body parts - a
total of 1,090,000 rupees, or approximately
Amnesty International USA's Dauer is amazed that Iqbal wound up in
prison at all. "There are so many cases
where men aren't indicted,
let alone convicted and put in jail," she says. Cris Toffolo,
Ph.D., Amnesty International
USA's consultant on Pakistan, adds
these startling statistics: "The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan
in Lahore in 197 and discovered result of
domestic violence - only six people were arrested. No one was
1998, 183 women died of burn injuries in Punjab.
Only three people were arrested." Still, there's hope. General
Musharraf, Pakistan's military leader, assumed power in 1999
and vowed to eradicate honor violence. Dauer would like Musharraf's
translated into legislation: "The government must criminalize
honor killings as murder.
The Road to recovery
first read about Parveen in The Washington post on May 8,
2000, and called the journalist to see how he could help. "I
to do something to right this horrific wrong," Dr. Ashraf
explains. "I also wanted to show the world that this
behavior is not tolerated by Pakistanis." To that end, Dr. Ashraf
traveled to Pakistan in July 2000 to meet
Parveen. She was living
with her three children, her mother, her brother, his wife and their
three children - all on
Shakir's meager barber's salary. Despite
having read the account of the attack, Dr. Ashraf was shocked to see
mutilated Parveen was. Her eyelids had atrophied and
literally attached themselves to the sunken curve of her empty
"It's incredible," he insists, "that she survived."
When Dr. Ashraf asked Parveen to come to the United States for
her firs question was, "Will I be able to see:" "Of course
the answer was no," says Dr. Ashraf, "but I told her it would
her children tremendously psychologically." Still, she was
hesitant. "I didn't want to go alone," explains Parveen.
finally agreed when dr. Ashraf arranged for Shakir to accompany her
to Maryland. "She did it for her children,"
Aseela Ashraf is
convinced. "She said there were many times when she wanted to die,
but she worried about who would
take care of the children."
Parveen arrived in Maryland on January 7. 2001, depressed and
socially paralyzed. "Those
first few weeks were very difficult,"
Aseela Ashraf explains. "Zahida did not say much. She was
homesick, and at first
she had a hard time sleeping. " Parveen
agreed to come for only six months, a timetable that limited Craig
the chief of plastic surgery at Fairfax Hospital who
had agreed to do Parveen's surgery for free. rather than give her
new nose and earlobes, which would have taken several surgeries and
up to a year and a half of rehabilitation, dr.
Duresne decided to
The operation, took about 6 hours. When the surgery was finished,
had grooves in her skin where the prosthetics would slide
in. It took several weeks for the swelling to go down before
prosthetic specialists could mold her new ears, eyes and a nose.
But slowly, Aseela Saw a shift in Parveen's attitude,
not to mention
her appetite. "She gained 11 pounds while she was here ," Aseela
says with a smile. What a transformation!"
each week when she called her family - her mother and children
would take the calls at their cousin's house, which had
a phone -
she would sink back into depression. "Zahida missed her children
terribly and needed to get back t them,"
explains Aseela Ashraf.
After only four months, Parveen asked if she could go home.
Trying to fulfill her wish,
the doctors worked at full speed.
Aseela Ashraf points to the day that Parveen got her new nose as
pivotal in her recovery.
"I almost started crying when they put it
on her," Aseela remembers. "She asked me, 'How do I look' I told
her she looked
beautiful. You cannot imagine the smile on her face."
On May 7, five months after arriving in the United States, Parveen
back in Pakistan to a throng of local reporters. "She was
in al the newspapers," says Aseela Ashraf, who spoke to Parveen
after her return. "She told me she came out of the airport pushing
her luggage on a cart and gave interviews to
all of the
Journalists. "But the greatest thrill for Parveen was her children's
reaction to her new face. "She was so
happy," Aseela recalls. "She
said, 'My daughter brought me a comb and asked me to comb her hair.'
That was the same
daughter who would not sleep with her."
Parveen's case is hopeful proof that Pakistan's views on honor
are shifting. She's also proof of the human spirit's
resilience. Dr. and Aseela Ashraf visited Parveen in her village in
and neither could get over her transformation. "Previously,"
Dr. Ashraf says, "she had no self esteem and thought she was
than human. Now the entire village comes to visit!: If it was
Iqbal's intent to shame Parveen along with brutally
he failed miserably. Astoundingly, since hearing of her return he
has, according to Parveen, sent her
messages looking to reconcile.
She plans to respond to her husband's pleas with divorce papers as
soon as they are in
order. In the meantime, she wants to move
forward. "It's more important that my suffering saves other women
sort of thing in the future," she says. "Every time I hear
about the birth of a female child, I worry about the powers
against her." She pauses a moment, then adds, "But at the same time,
I know women can face anything. They have