Leh Leh Win, a 30-year-old businesswoman from Pantanaw in Myanmar’s Ayeyarwady region, was the breadwinner of her household.
She enjoyed a fairly comfortable life because of her astute business skills.
But it wasn’t to last.
Leh Leh Win was standing outside her downtown house talking to a female acquaintance on the night of Oct. 24, 2019, when two people on a motorcycle pulled up and doused her face with acid.
“We were under an electricity pole, and two people arrived and parked their motorcycle,” she told RFA’s Myanmar Service. “The one in front was a young boy who had brown skin and a sharp jawline. In the middle was a basket. In the back was a woman, I think.”
Suddenly they threw acid from two plastic bags into Leh Leh Win’s face. Neighbors rushed out of their homes to help her as the liquid burned her, destroying nearly all the skin on her upper body.
Leh Leh Win was hospitalized and underwent several rounds of surgery as medical personnel tried to keep her alive. She lost sight in her right eye, but doctors were able to save her left eye.
Acid attacks are unusual in Myanmar, although they occur occasionally in other South and Southeast Asian countries.
Leh Leh Win doesn’t know who attacked her, but she suspects one of her assailants was woman with whom she had quarreled on social media.
Because Leh Leh Win sometimes lends money to people and charges them interest, she said there are those who do not get along with her as well as those who hate her.
But she believes the acid incident occurred over discord with a former friend with whom she had a disagreement on Facebook.
“We wrote things against each other,” Leh Leh Win said. “After that, she came to my house and threatened to report me. I reported her and asked Police Second Lieutenant Min Zaw Oo to arrest her, [but] he said he couldn’t do it because she knew higher authorities.”
Leh Leh Win reported the threat to the Naypyidaw Council Office.
Three days later, the acid attack occurred.
“On the third day after reporting this, I arrived at a point where a life that was white became one without any light,” she said. “I’m dead even though I’m alive.”
Leh Leh Win used to be vivacious, but now she can’t do anything for herself and must rely on family members to help her get out of bed, bathe her, eat meals, take medicine, and change her clothes.
Because the acid melted part of her nose, she must take medicine to help her breathe through narrowed nostrils.
“It’s been almost four months now, and I have not looked in the mirror,” she told RFA. “Sometimes, I wonder if my life is a dream. When I wake up, I try to feel the one eye that I’ve lost, and I feel sad.”
“I don't want to live in this life where I cannot go back to the way I was born,” she added. “Sometimes, I want to give up my life and kill myself.”
Rare kind of attack
Others who live in downtown Pantanaw where the attack occurred have expressed concern that no arrests have been made in the case and say they feel insecure knowing that anyone there could be the victim of such a brutal assault.
Leh Leh Win said that no other acid attacks had occurred in the town before.
“If they throw acid, and the case cannot be solved … it will continue to go on like this,” she said. “Ultimately, it has been life-threatening for me.”
Even though there are times when Leh Leh Win says she feels dejected and as if she can’t go on, the woman is hopeful that surgery can restore her right eye and the rest of her face.
“I would like to get back my life,” she said. “I have this thought all the time, and I feel very sad. I do not want to go through life like this either. I will have facial surgery and get my eye replaced. After that, I will wear glasses. I will cut off my hair and become a [Buddhist] nun.”
Authorities at the Pantanaw Myoma Police Station have yet to make any arrests in the case.
RFA called the station several times for comment, but no one answered.
Taking matters into her own hands, Leh Leh Win sent reports of the incident to Myanmar President Win Myint, State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, Home Affairs Minister Soe Htut, and Social Welfare Minister Win Myint Aye, other relevant government departments, and the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission, hoping that someone will see that her attackers are brought to justice.
But nothing has happened since then, and Leh Leh Win says all she can do in the meantime is pray that the police will find her assailants and that no other woman will become a victim of such a violent attack.
Reported by Thant Zin Oo for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Than Than Win. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.