It was the day Sarwari Bibi had awaited for more than two decades. Surrounded by friends and family, the 45-year-old Pakistani salon worker dressed in brightly coloured clothing and sat patiently as women flitted around her, helping sweep up her hair and apply her makeup.
But Bibi was no ordinary bride: In 1992, her first husband, then unemployed, told her she was expected to pay the household expenses. When Bibi couldn’t come up with the money, her husband tried to kill her by throwing kerosene at her and lighting her on fire.
Before her wedding last month to Arshad Ali, a man she met through a friend at Depilex Smile Again Foundation
, a group dedicated to victims of domestic violence, Bibi had suffered decades of loneliness and discrimination as a result of her scars, and underwent seven major surgeries. "I thought I didn’t have another chance towards happiness," she told Refinery29.
Sadly, Bibi is far from alone: Hundreds of women and children each year become victims of acid attacks in Pakistan, according to the Asia Foundation
. The majority are carried out by husbands against their own wives and children, usually over domestic disagreements. And the horrific attacks — which disfigure but rarely kill — don’t just take place in rural areas, but also in major cities.
On her wedding day, Bibi’s friends and colleagues, many of them also victims of acid and kerosene attacks, were there to celebrate one woman's triumph. That process began in 2008, when she registered with Depilex Smile Again, the staff of which helped with her medical care. Bibi also took one of the foundation's beauty courses, and now works as a beautician at the Depilex salon, earning enough to support herself.
Ahead, Bibi shares her wedding portraits and her stunning story of love and hope after abuse.