Doting daughters, or caring mothers, there are sparks in every woman and no matter how you try to break them, they stand up. So, is the case of Sandhya, a 25-year-old girl from Mamandur, Tamil Nadu, who in face adversity found her inner strength.
Sandhya was a regular girl until a bottle of acid changed her life. She lived with five sisters near Chennai.
“My father, a heavy drinker forced my elder sister to quit studies and married her off to yet another alcoholic, a man double her age. But my sister and I had our own aspiration to continue studies and find a job thereafter to live a life of dignity. But our father wanted her to get married. In despair, she consumed acid in front of me and died on the spot. Shocked and frozen, I couldn’t bear the loss of my sister and consumed the rest of the acid but was rescued by my family,” Sandhya recalls.
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Sandhya was left with a burnt food pipe and damaged stomach. Her father and family abandoned her but Sisters of a nearby Convent, funded for her multiple surgeries. Since then, Sandhya tagged along with them and continued her treatment with the active assistance from the convent. Gradually, she overcame the misery and has been on her way to recovery.
“85% of the worst acid attacks are on women, 90% of these cases are usually enraged by anger, frustration and gender disparity that leads to violence of this kind. Anger over rejection (41% of attacks in India from 2010 – 2013 was from spurned lovers).”
She currently pursues designing as her passion and has been sheltered by the Smile Foundation’s community which has played a major role in helping her get back on her feet.
When we asked about how she overcame the tragedy, Sandhya explains, “After recovering initially from the trauma, it was the day-to-day needs that started haunting me. I was in need of money to meet the daily expenses.” She further added, “It was at a community drive by the Smile Foundation volunteers got to know my story. They started with counselling and after a period of time, I joined the vocational training programme for women. I enrolled for tailoring and stitching course.”
“Despite stricter laws and punishments, the number of acid attacks in India continues to increase. Statistics show a clear increase in the number of acid attacks in the South Asian countries in the recent years. At least 106 such attacks were reported in 2012, according to the Acid Survivors Foundation India (ASFI). And that figure rose to 122 in 2013 and 349 in 2014. Activists say that figure climbed to over 500 in 2015.”
An avid lover of fabric, Sandhya is now an inspiration to the less privileged women in the community and working as an aid to helping them find the lost hopes. “Despite the pain, health never came in the way of her determination. She is still continuing her training. Sandhya is one of the regular and most promising students of the batch. She has become a role model not only amongst her peers, but the society at large. As they say, once you choose hope, anything is possible,” Sayani Bhattacharya from Smile Foundation echoed.
“Studies showcase that, when we help women the entire society is benefited. Regardless of the challenges faced by women in the family and society, she can make an equal difference when given an opportunity to. Therefore, promoting women has always helped to build a stronger and better community! We believe empowered women further empower other women like Sandhya does.”
But Sandhya is not a lone survivor. According to Sayani, till date Swabhiman (the women empowerment arm of Smile Foundation) has successfully made a difference to the lives of over 150,000 women and girl children.
“Swabhiman was initiated with the conviction that education is a cornerstone for development and empowerment of women. It identifies young adolescent girls (between 10-19 years) in its intervention areas and provides full educational support to them. The programme, in addition, tries to bring about positive changes in the parental attitude of the girls by sensitizing them about the importance of sending their daughters to school, letting them finish their education, thus, creating good employment opportunities, resulting in the overall development of the family,” Sayani exclaimed.
“A child can go to school regularly only when the family, particularly the mother is healthy and empowered; the family has decent livelihood opportunities and a steady income.”
ACID MENACE IN INDIA
Acid attack not only leaves a scar on one’s physical appearance, but also wound the soul. In 2013, the Supreme Court imposed restrictions on the sale of acids. The order prohibited the sale of acid unless shopkeepers maintained records that showed the proof of identity of buyers, reasons for their purchase, and a declaration of all acid stock. But sadly, it is easily available at any retail market. Sayani thinks, “Government is doing its bit to stop this social menace. But Government alone cannot stop these crimes as it needs more of a social change. As most of the times these offences are passion crimes and usually family members or colleagues or friends of the victims are involved.”
Among the challenges they face as an organisation, “While we started our operation, the biggest challenge we faced was to find right partners and now it is to find the right people. There were a few hurdles we overcame. At times the funders being from the corporate sector lack the proper understanding. Development is a slow process; in this sector input is not always equal to the output. Second, in India, inclination towards development work is low, it is more towards religious causes. So connecting people with resources and need is always a challenge. Third, we found that the development sector was not ready for so many things. From the day one we realized a grave challenge – this sector had been struggling with trust deficit. Perception management was a big task in itself initially,” Sayani exclaims.
Sandhya, even after having multiple surgeries, cannot take solid diets and still needs to undergo multiple surgeries. Most of the time, she is in pain and even if she’s miserable and wants to vomit, her burnt throat breaks her off. The strength Sandhya finds in such poor condition is an alarm for this country to wake up and do what’s right. We know Sandhya is doing her bit!
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