|amerjahan (standing) with sisters Aisha, Sanam; Isha, who is admitted in a Delhi hospital with serious injuries|
Nine daughters of a Muslim widow, all pursuing higher education or holding jobs, sisters Anjum, Jahan, Sana, Kamerjahan, Sanam Jahan, Alisha, Isha, Aisha and Alina would have been the envy of any. In the small village of Kandhla, in this region steeped in orthodoxy in western Uttar Pradesh, that may have run deep enough to bring them an acid attack.
Isha, 23, is now in New Delhi's Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, with burns to her face and battling to save her left eye. Kamerjahan (30), Sanam Jahan (28) and Aisha (21), who too had acid thrown on them by two unidentified men on a bike on April 2 evening, also received burns on their face and other parts of the body.
In the village, everyone knows about what happened and will guide you to their house, that has been getting a stream of visitors, including politicians. However, no one claims to have seen the bikers.
Questioning the village's silence, Aisha says: "There were a lot of people at the spot. One of the shopkeepers even tried to stop the bikers and hurled a few abuses at them. However, they have denied any knowledge about the identity of those bikers. Someone must have seen their face or heard their voices."
The confidence with which they sped away through the narrow village lanes appears to indicate they were locals. The villagers The Sunday Express spoke to also denied any information of who the men could have been.
However, it's not the first time the girls have felt isolated in this predominantly Muslim village. Apart from poverty, their mother Nur Jahan, in her 60s, fought battles at various levels to ensure them an education — often putting her at odds with fellow villagers. Her husband Salim, a tailor, died nine years ago following a heart attack. Nur Jahan also has a son, 19, who is studying in Ghaziabad.
The four sisters who were attacked work as temporary teachers at local schools and earn Rs 2,000 each per month. They were returning from exam invigilator duty at the Hindu Inter College School when acid was thrown on them just metres from their house.
While Anjum, 35, has done M.A. in Economics, Jahan, two years younger, is a constable with the Uttar Pradesh Police. Sana has done M.A, and M.Ed and is teaching in a school in Delhi. Alisha did M.A. in Home Science. All four are married.
Isha was planning to give B.Ed exams in June. The Delhi hospital where she is admitted has said the next two weeks will be crucial in determining if her eye can be saved. It has also promised to bear the entire cost of her treatment.
Villagers vouch for Isha's beauty. She won a college beauty contest four years ago, says a worried Alina, the youngest sister who is in Class XI.
SSP Shamli Abdul Hamid said the police had identified some suspects and were questioning them, though no arrests have been made. Admitting that some villagers may have resented the girls working, he added: "As of now we cannot say anything on the reason why they were attacked... Another reason could also be that some students were angry with the victims. There could be a third angle too."
The girls can't identify the men as the one driving was wearing a helmet and the pillion rider who threw the acid had his face covered with a handkerchief. "Both of them were well-built and wearing shabby clothes. They did not utter a word and just attacked us. For a second I thought it was water but the next moment, I felt my eyes burning. Isha and I fainted right there," says Kamerjahan, who also received injuries to her right eye.
The attackers used a bottle meant to spray water, commonly used by a barbers, for the attack.
With the village silence ringing loud, Nur Jahan, who never got swayed by what others thought, now wonders if it is all her fault. "I never asked my daughters to wear a burqa despite all the villagers asking me to. After my husband's death, our relatives discouraged them from pursuing higher education as everyone here believes women aren't meant to study... My daughters have always been outgoing, I hope this is not the reason they were attacked."