Mutilated Pakistani woman rebuilds her life

Allah Rakhi's life has been transformed following treatment from one of Pakistan's top surgeons

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A Pakistani woman whose nose was cut off by her husband 32 years ago says she has been brought back from the dead after surgery which gave her a new nose. Allah Rakhi hid her face for decades after the attack. Orla Guerin went to central Punjab to meet her.

Thirty-two years ago a teenaged mother of two set off through the lush fields of central Punjab with one thought in her mind - escape.

She was slim and spirited and famed as the beauty of her family.

Her name was Allah Rakhi, and she had just endured another beating by her husband, Ghulam Abbas.

She made it to the edge of their village, the hamlet of Thatta Pira, before he caught up with her. Within minutes the rich brown soil was running red with her blood. Ghulam Abbas had hacked off her nose.

Three decades on, still spirited but now a doting grandmother, Allah Rakhi took me to the spot at the edge of the rice fields, where she was robbed of her looks, and much of her life. Dry-eyed and animated, she relived the attack.

"He told me to sit down and listen to him," she said. "I told him he had destroyed my life, beating me every day and that I was going to my parents' house. He sat on my chest, and reached into his pocket for a blade. As he slashed my nose off, blood poured into my eyes. Then he cut my ankle, from one side to the other."

Drenched in blood she was carried back home, rather than to the hospital, so she could not make a police report. Eventually Ghulam was arrested, and spent six months in jail. Allah Rakhi agreed to his release, for the sake of their young children. When he came home he divorced her, and threw her out.

Allah Rakhi Allah Rakhi's injuries were so severe she was ashamed to show herself in front of her children

Then the gregarious and garrulous Allah Rakhi began what amounted to her own prison sentence - condemned to isolation, avoiding mirrors and hiding her face - even from her own son and daughter. "It would have been better if he had cut my throat, instead of cutting of my nose," she says.

Sitting on a traditional woven bed inside her modest home, she recalls her lost years - when she kept a piece of fabric permanently tied around her face, and shrouded herself in a veil.

Deep scar

"That's how I spent 32 years," she said.

"I never removed that fabric because it hurt to look at myself. I couldn't attend weddings or funerals, because people would keep asking what happened. If any local children came and saw me they started screaming in fright. I thought of myself as one of the dead."

Nowadays a cream scarf covers her hair, but she has no need to cover her face.

She has a ready smile and a deep scar running the length of her forehead, leading to her new nose.

It was fashioned from her ribs by Pakistan surgeon Professor Hamid Hassan, who treated her free of charge in March.

Allah Rakhi's physical and mental scars are healing, but her torment is not over yet.

She is back under the same roof with the man who mutilated her, her ex-husband Ghulam, a brooding presence with a bushy grey beard, and an incongruous floral scarf, forming a turban on his head.

Ghulam Abbas Ghulam Abbas has shown no remorse for the brutal attack

As she tells me her story he sits right outside in the courtyard, listening intently. He is gnarled by age, but untouched by remorse.

When I ask about the attack his responses are prompt, and chilling.

Threatened with eviction

"What can I say about this now?" he said, in a low voice, devoid of emotion. "It's better if you don't ask. It's all her fault. Whatever happened was because of her crimes. It didn't happen for no reason." He refuses to elaborate on her alleged wrongdoing.

Allah Rakhi hears his replies, but says little in return.

"I have never punished him," she said. "I have left that to God."

Her attention is focused on the labourer, building a wall next door, under a scorching sun.

This softly spoken man in worn clothing is her son, Azhar, who is struggling to get by. Her love of him has brought her back, but it is a fraught homecoming.

"It pains me a lot to be here," she says. "I die every minute, but my son wants me here. My children are everything to me. I am happy when I see son and my grandchildren."

But Allah Rakhi may be at risk again. She says Ghulam has been harassing her since her return and threatening to evict her again. "He tells me either live as my wife or go away," she says. " I am willing to go. I am also willing to die, but I am not willing to be his wife again."

As Allah Rakhi struggles to rebuild her life, human rights campaigners here warn that other women could share her fate.

Allah Rakhi's son Azhar Azhar is struggling to make ends meet

In many parts of Pakistan men still make the rules and women can be killed or maimed for breaking them. Almost 900 women were killed last year for so-called honour crimes, campaigners say, and nine women had their noses or other body parts amputated.

As the sun sets in Thatta Pira, Allah Rakhi's son Azhar is hard at work, finishing the wall brick by brick. She draws water from the well and brings him a drink.

"God will hear our prayers," she says, stroking his forehead.

And if God does not provide, then Allah Rakhi will. Now that she can show her face again, she is looking for work, so she can help her son.

And this indomitable woman has another plan. She wants to pierce her new nose.

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