New Delhi: A traumatised 18-year-old Afghan girl, left with a gaping hole in her face after she was shot in the face at point-blank range by her husband, is desperate to stay on in India so that she can get her face reconstructed, and begin life afresh.
Shakila Zareen was just 17 when her poor parents, driven by financial compulsions, married her to a 31-year-old cousin. Her dreams of a happy married life were soon shattered by an abusive husband and his family that culminated in her being shot with a hunting gun in December last year in her parents’ home.
Recovering in Delhi’s Apollo Hospital after treatment, a bandage still covers young Shakila’s face. Now 18, she is mortally afraid of returning to Afghanistan for fear that she would be killed by her husband’s family.
India’s policy in such cases is to extend assistance, even extend visas, but not encourage Afghans to settle here given the political and cultural sensitivities involved. India also does have an asylum policy.
Brought to Delhi in January for treatment by the Indian government with the cooperation of the Afghan government, Shakila Zareen, who was shot in the face at point-blank range by her husband, has undergone three surgeries at Apollo Hospital to reconstruct her shattered face. But the doctors were unable to save one of her eyes which was totally damaged.
The bullet that smashed into the 18-year-old’s face also took away many of her teeth and nose cartilage. She’s unable to speak properly now. A team of doctors harvested skin from her thighs to rebuild her face that remains swathed with bandages. “She has been discharged from hospital but the psychological scars remain,” said sources close to the family.
Able to move around now, Shakila makes frequent visits to the hospital along with her mother, Sherman Jan, to have her dressings changed. Surviving on a liquid diet, the teenager will require another surgery after six months to fix an artificial eye.
The husband has reportedly been arrested for the attack on his young wife which happened in her parents’ house in Mazar-e-Sharif in Afghanistan last December.
Shakila had returned to her parents’ home after her abusive husband’s family threw her out.
The young girl who dropped out of school following her marriage still nurtures a desire to resume her education but not back in Afghanistan. Sources close to her family said, “She wants to stay here as she’s terribly afraid of returning and fears for her life there.” Arezo Kohistany, a US-based Afghan-American who has been spearheading a fund-raising campaign for Shakila, says: “She is in no condition to be transferred back to Afghanistan. She will face the possibility of yet another violent attack by her husband’s family. She will not be safe there.”
According to sources, before being brought to India for treatment, her well-wishers contacted hospitals and doctors in the US to sponsor her treatment, without success.
Indeed, while many Western nations baulk at the prospect of medical treatment here for Afghans, it is India that has been quietly lending a helping hand.
However, India draws a line when it comes to allowing those here for medical treatment to stay on indefinitely. While they can have their visas renewed, it does not encourage people to settle down here.
Ms Kohistany says, “The Indian government has been instrumental in facilitating her care thus far. The concern for Shakila now is what will happen after she is medically stable as she does not have much to go back to in Afghanistan.”