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Padma Lakshmi Seeks Public Help for 21-Year-Old Pakistani American Acid Attack Victim

Padma Lakshmi Seeks Public Help for 21-Year-Old Pakistani American Acid Attack Victim

Staff Writer
  • The celebrity chef who has known the victim and her family for over a decade, takes to the social media to urge the public to help Nafiah Fatima Ikram.

In another shocking incident in the chain of rising anti-Asian hate crime, a young South Asian woman was attacked with acid outside of her home in Elmont in Long Island, New York, on March 17. Twenty-one-year-old Nafiah Fatima Ikram, a student at Hofstra University, was brutally attacked by an unidentified man and suffered devastatingly serious injuries to her face, arms, and chest, leaving her blinded.

Wearing contact lenses the night of the incident; the acid melted the contacts onto her eyes. Additionally, because she was screaming, the acid went into her mouth, causing her tongue and throat to burn. Her parents, who immigrated from Pakistan, too suffered burns on their hands and forearms as they attempted to help their only daughter.  Footage of the incident was caught on a neighboring house camera.

In a GoFundMe page, neighbor and fundraiser organizer Shazia Anjum writes that the attacker used a dark brown acid known to cause blindness and severe burning. “Had the acid gotten into Nafiah’s lungs she would have died,” she writes. “We don’t know if Nafiah will ever regain vision again,” she states on the page. Please be warned, the page contains pictures of her injuries are graphic.

According to the GoFundMe page, the incident took place around 8.15 p.m., when Nafiah and her mother were walking towards the home after exiting their car on returning from work. This is when an unidentified man came running towards Nafiah and threw acid in her face, according to surveillance footage. The man then took off in the opposite direction, leaving acid burns seared into her driveway.

Almost three weeks after the attack, Nafiah spoke out about what happened on that fateful day. “My whole life changed in a matter of five minutes,” she said on April 21, as per CBS New York. “We don’t realize what we have until it’s gone.” She started to cry, she recalled, and “was panicking.” 

Her father Sheikh Ikram told CBS that his daughter was in the hospital for three weeks, and is not able to eat properly. “She can’t see anything good. Only one eye is working,” he said. “I can just see colors, but that’s it,” Nafiah said. Her mother, Sherina Mohammed told CBS that it’s been “a horrible nightmare for us.”

Celebrity chef, author and host of “Top Chef,” Padma Lakshmi, who has known the family and the victim for over a decade, took to social media to urge the public to come forward with any news of the assailant of this heinous crime. Lakshmi posted a heart-wrenching video describing the “beautiful girl” who “has had her whole life shattered,” because of this senseless, brutal attack. 

Lakshmi has asked anyone who is able to contribute to Nafiah’s  GoFundMe, the proceeds of which will be put towards her medical bills. “If you’re able to donate, any small amount would help. I’ve made a donation myself. I would really, really appreciate it,” said Lakshmi on her Twitter post.

Nafiah has also received an outpouring of support, including many people who were quick to express their support and condolences. “This is so, so scary and horrific. I hope Nafiah gets the help she needs and that the perpetrator is found and charged,” one follower wrote on Lakshmi’s Twitter post. “Praying for a speedy recovery — so sorry for what happened to her,” posted another.

Hofstra University also issued a statement supporting Nafiah and condemning the attack. “We’re shocked by this horrific attack, and our thoughts are with Nafiah, her family and friends as she focuses on her recovery,” said a statement from the university. “We are committed to supporting her through that process and will cooperate with any investigation into the matter.” Even a month after the incident, Nafiah still cannot eat solid food, and has still not regained vision in her eye.

While acid attacks are commonly connected to incidents of domestic violence, acid has been used in a number of hate crimes across the U.S.

Police officials are still investigating and have asked for the public’s assistance in sharing any information they may have. According to Crime Stoppers and the Nassau County Police Department, the man in question, described by the Ikrams as “a skinny 6 ft-2 man,” fled the scene in a Red 2013-2015 Nissan Altima with fog lights. There is a $10,000 reward for any information regarding the attacker and this vicious crime.

While police officials have yet to declare a motive for the attack, members of the community are connecting it to the rise in Asian American hate nationwide. According to AAPI Hate, of the 3,800 anti-hate incidents reported in the last year, 68 percent have targeted women. While acid attacks are commonly connected to incidents of domestic violence, acid has been used in a number of hate crimes across the U.S.

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Last year a 61-year-old grandmother and phlebotomist was declared blind after she was randomly attacked by a stranger who also splashed acid in her face outside of her home. According to ABC News affiliate WPVI, the incident took place in Philadelphia moments before the woman planned to draw blood for patients at a nursing home. She too had no previous exchange or interaction with the assailant. 

In another incident, a Hispanic man was attacked and severely burned after someone threw acid on him while yelling, “Go back to your country.” The incident occurred in Milwaukee after Mahud Villalaz parked his car next to the perpetrators outside of a taqueria. Before attacking him, the man called Villalaz “illegal,” and said, “You came here to invade,” The New York Times reported.

In the GoFundMe page, Anjum credits Nafiah for staying “incredibly strong throughout this horrific event.” She says Nafiah’s “only wish is that the attacker is caught so that she can feel safe in her own home.” 

According to the page, “the goal amount has been set by taking into consideration the several different expenses that this family has and will continue to incur due to this attack. Your donation will pay for medical expenses not covered by insurance, home security, legal fees, and loss of income as Nafiah and her mother are out of work during this time.” 

In an April 19 update posted on the GoFundMe page, Anjum thanked everyone who shared/donated to help Nafiah. As of April 21, more than $300,000 has been raised by her supporters.

But for now, Nafiah and her family are just looking for answers on why they were targeted.

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