I was the integral part of a long queue in the courtyard of the Louvre Museum and the entrance was not open yet. This long and curved line had all the colours and shapes of ages and sizes with multi-linguistic sounds and multicultural representation of tourists from all over the world. In this bright and sunny and very pleasant morning, the curved human queue was looking like a rainbow of people in the characterless background of the tarmac of the museum courtyard. While standing there, a thought struck my mind that one day, the tarmac of geographical, nationalistic, racial and political divides will be under the feet of the rainbow people of this world. That would be a delightful and bright day. And it is worth waiting for!
That pleasant sunny morning in Paris is now more than two decades away from me, but I still remember the excitement to explore and understand the meaning of beauty in the works of Leonardo Da Vinci and to see the real Venus De Milo for the first time in my life.
The breeze in the courtyard was as fresh and as young as I was at that time. The long wait did not bother me at all. The man ahead of me in the queue was an US businessman. The conversation went on a mutual footing and in a confident mode but I deliberately avoided disclosing my programme for the rest of the day.
Being single and a full-time student, I was travelling on a meagre budget. But I had enough saved Francs (the French currency before the Euro) in my wallet to buy the ticket for the museum and for the rest of the places I planned to visit that day. My haversack was heavy but manageable as it contained everything for my trip to Paris. The next step in my journey was to catch the train to leave Paris from Saint Lazare. My train was scheduled to leave Paris at two am.
I was a free man on the streets of Paris that day for about eighteen hours after leaving the hotel early that morning. Three main course heavy meals for the entire day were in my haversack. Fresh from the oven of a Parisian bakery, a very long French bread with a lot of cheese inside. It was cut into three equal pieces with an accompanying bottle of orange juice to facilitate swallowing. The plan for the afternoon siesta was on any available bench alongside the Seine River ensuring a full view of Eifel Tower and River Seine at the same time. The plan was mainly dictated by the budget than by the taste.
That day in Paris, the main and the reverberating theme of my thoughts, all day, were beauty and justice. What is beauty? Does it have anything to do with justice? Why do some societies and doctrines encourage both and some seem to behave in the totally opposite direction?
A young mind was asking difficult questions. Perhaps it is a norm for the insecure beings on the streets and for those who are hungry to ask difficult questions!
After so many years after that morning in Paris, the same topic emerged once again in our conversation. This time, it was a very pleasant evening in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and all four of us, me, Tom, Shobha and Redouane, the members of the Interburns team, were walking alongside the lake in Dhan Mondi and none of us was hungry or insecure and not even very young now (sadly!), but surprisingly, we all were still discussing and struggling to answer the same difficult question which I asked myself in Paris about twenty years ago.
We all came to Bangladesh from different corners of the world and this evening`s agenda was to be part of an evening organised by our working partner in Bangladesh, the Acid Survivors Foundation (ASF). We arrived to the venue twenty minutes earlier than the event and hence decided to enjoy this pleasant walk and the philosophical talk before the official start of the evening.
The chief organizer of this event was Monira Rahman. She is the Executive Director of ASF. Monira is an extremely enthusiastic Interburns colleague and a very decent human being. She is a very close friend to all of us. Personally, she is so close to me it is as if she is just like my real sister. And I always feel so proud whenever she calls me Shariq Bhaiya in her very pleasant Bangladeshi accent!
Monira`s passionate journey started in her country Bangladesh, when she saw a girl whose face had been destroyed by a man throwing acid. She was shocked and very angry. But she is the kind of person who knows how to channel her anger constructively in order to serve a noble cause. Since then, she and her organisation, ASF, have fought non-stop to save girls – and boys – who have been the victims of attacks using acid or petrol dousing. And the great thing about her struggle is that Monira and ASF have managed to half the number of acid attacks (50% reduction) in Bangladesh and their success has been statistically proven.
Above is a memorable picture of a proud brother with two heroic sisters from India and Bangladesh. Shobha`s noble contribution to humanity deserves another story in future. Monira has received many international awards of high repute including a Human Rights Award from Amnesty International in 2005 for her courageous fight to put an end to acid and petrol violence in Bangladesh.
The evening was attended by the dignitaries, politicians, human rights workers, writers and intellectuals, the members of the general public and most of all, by a large number of acid survivors. It was an open air arena and a perfect place for such an event. Proceedings included speeches, songs, cultural dances and music, freeing of balloons and candle lighting in support of the struggle against this heinous crime.
Acid violence has been common for some time, but before ASF established in 1999 with Monira as its Executive Director, this issue was not recognized as a matter of violation of human rights. In the organisation’s early years, there was more than one acid attack every day in Bangladesh. Today, there are only half as many attacks. But the goal is for no-one – no child, no girl, no woman and no man – to be attacked with acid or petrol by the year 2015. ASF helps survivors to live an active life, with dignity. They not only provide legal and humanitarian support, but also offer plastic surgery to them, if necessary.
Most of those affected are girls, but women, boys and men are also attacked. Often young girls are attacked with acid for spurning a marriage or love offer. Attacks on men, but also on women, often arise out of disputes over land. Many young children are attacked because they were sleeping with their mother, some babies are acid attacked by their father because of being girls.
A very important thing to note that evening was that the survivors themselves are the greatest activists against this kind of violence. ASF is dedicated to raising awareness and preventing acid attacks and providing survivors with medical and legal aid. Interburns provides the educational and training support to the ASF medical staff and team members.
According to Human Rights Watch, domestic violence in Bangladesh is “a daily reality for many women”. This is true for the entire developing world including my own country Pakistan. Having such a mission is truly noble and ASF, Bangladesh, has shown tremendous success in significantly reducing the incidence of Acid Violence in Bangladesh.
We all were very proud to be part of that evening in Dhan Mondi, Dhaka, Bangladesh and showing our solidarity with the victims of acid violence and celebrating the great success ASF has achieved in its on-going struggle. It was a real honour to stand side by side with the acid survivors in their commitment and struggle for dignity and justice. By singing the songs together and holding their hands that evening, and lighting the candles of hope together, we affirmed that we are honoured to be part of this noble struggle for human rights.
While sitting in that open air arena in Dhan Mondi that day, I realized that beauty and justice goes hand in hand. Beauty may apparently seem only the matter of pleasure to the mind or senses. But in actual fact, it is not only the harmony of form or shape or colour and its aesthetic balance but, in its most powerful form, it is the intrinsic human sense of upholding what is just!
Without the principle of moral rightness in action in our attitudes and without the conformity to truth, fact, and sound reasoning as individuals and societies, we will never be able to achieve or preserve the excellence of artistry, truthfulness, and originality. Beauty and justice go hand in hand!
Acknowledgement: Most pics are original in this write-up but few pictures used are borrowed from the freely downloadable picture websites to suit the description. Author is grateful and acknowledges the contribution of the original work by these websites.