Rising above the scars

... rather than lamenting on things that can’t be changed, it is be better if we move forward accepting it


Ukali ra Orali ta Jindagi ko Sarathi ho

Dukha Katai Baadindaina

Eklai Bokne Bhaari ho

(Ups and downs are friends of life, pain is not shared, burden has to be carried alone)

These lyrics, penned by 48-year-old Sushila Piruwa, reflect her experiences in her life’s journey. Like the sad lyrics, her life would have remained a painful experience, had she not faced the challenges boldly. An acid attack survivor, she changed the course of her life with her optimism and willpower. Her story would motivate anyone to stay strong despite the odds.

Those happy days

“People show sympathy when they see my face and bruises,” Piruwa says about the attention that her burnt face and bruises draw from people. Her face and upper part of her body were burnt when she was attacked with acid, and the scars on those body parts remind her of those painful memories.

That is why Piruwa doesn’t like people’s “sympathetic looks” because “the pain I have got can’t ever be felt by others”.

But it was not always the scarred life that she lived. Born to parents Bal Bahadur Khati and Januka Khati on December 7, 1968, she grew up a happy child in Chaparbhatti, Mahendranagar, Rajabas of Sunsari district.

As she reminisces her good childhood days, her eyes glow with happiness. “My father had kept horses so that we could ride them while going to school,” she recalls.

When she was seeking admission at Rajawas Saraswati School, she could fluently read books of Class II (she learnt reading at home), and so was enrolled in Class II without having to study in Class I.

However, she didn’t continue her studies after completing the third grade. Before the new sessions started, she had gone to her sister’s house. When she returned home, after July, the new classes had already begun and “I felt a hesitation to attend the classes in the middle of the session then. I stopped studying then after”.

Though her formal education stopped, she didn’t stop learning. On the suggestion of one of her landlords, she went to stay in Zero Kilo of Dharan, to learn weaving traditional dhaka caps.

“I used to weave two caps a day, one cap would cost Rs 11 then,” she remembers.

She was living a normal life till one of her aunts came to meet her with a man named Bhakta Bahadur.

“My aunt asked me to come along with them till Bhanuchowk. I went. They took me to that man’s house in Dhankuta and I was suddenly welcomed as a bride,” she narrates the incidents as they had happened then.

She was caught by surprise and was furious at the same time. “I revolted, became angry and wanted to return,” she says of her reaction then. “But all those present there suggested me to get married with that man as he was from a good family.”

Seeing no other option ahead, she surrendered to their pressure and they got married. Despite such an unusual wedding, Piruwa was happy with her goldsmith husband. As time passed, she gave birth to two sons Dharmaraj and Gunaraj.

Entering the ugly world

Her life took a U-turn 11 years after their marriage. Sushila Piruwa's happiness ended when Bhakta Bahadur married for the second time in 1996. And not more than two weeks after this marriage, something unexpected and painful happened. While Piruwa was sleeping alone at home, the second wife threw acid on her and ran away.

“There was a burning sensation all over my body and face. I tried to open my eyes but I couldn’t open it for long. I became unconscious after sometime.”

Some 25 days had already passed when she was able to open her eyes — she was being treated at the BP Koirala Institute of Health Sciences, Dharan then. After opening her eyes, when she saw her face’s reflection on the liquid in a tiffin box, she fainted.

The dreadful incident, Piruwa says “was all planned by my husband”. And with her sister-in-law Laxmi’s help, she had been able to get the treatment.

Piruwa wanted to punish the perpetrators, but her elder son Dharmaraj requested her not to report anything against her husband.

“I was in a critical state and if my husband was arrested, my children would have nowhere to go. I was afraid my children’s life would be miserable. So, I didn’t report anything to the police,” she confesses.

Since then, her scarred face has always generated people’s attention, the sympathetic looks and questions like ‘What happened?’

In the initial days, people would be scared looking at her face. “Even the doctors were afraid then. That’s why I never wanted to appear in front of others,” she adds.

A year later, her husband married again. It was a more painful incident than the acid attack, she says.

Back to dignified life

Though the scared look on the faces of doctors and other people after seeing her had discouraged her from going out of her house, she found some courage after her eldest son suffered from jaundice. She came out for her son’s treatment. But he passed away in 1999.

It was another sad incident, but it also gave her the opportunity to move ahead in life. Since then, she did not remain confined within her house.

Thanks to a programme on domestic violence organised in her village (Belahara VDC) by an NGO during that time, she was able to give a different twist to her life. Different opportunities opened up after taking part in that event. She started taking part in leadership programmes and talking about domestic violence. She took a loan to buy goats. She generated income from cattle farming. She also cultivated tomato and other products for survival.

As she became financially strong, her confidence grew. During this time, Piruwa continued her treatments as well. She took training of sewing and stitching too.

Beside generating income, Piruwa is also a member of Community Forest Consumers’ Committee, Patalesange. She gives counselling to marginalised women, and is the treasurer of Nepal Disabled Women Association, Dhankuta.

She is also the recipient of Celebrating Womanhood Laxmi Award 2016 for the initiation, unflinching contribution and dedication for her work.

“I lost my beauty. But what is lost can’t be regained. So rather than lamenting on things that can’t be changed, it is be better if we move forward accepting it,” she says and it is what she has done.

What’s more interesting is that she has decided to forget the past, thus has maintained a friendly relationship with her husband and his third wife Shanta.

She has been supporting her family, and taking care of her sick husband.

After living the life with such ups and downs Piruwa feels that life is all a struggle. “Marriage isn’t easy. One must not give up during bad times in life,” she says.

Gaining her confidence back, she is living a dignified life. Interested in writing and singing songs, she sings when she is free. “I have planned for a music album too,” she shares adding, “If someone supports me, then I will release one music album.”

And her life’s song Ukali ra Orali could be the part of that album.