Scars Cannot Stop Them: Meet India’s Incredible Acid Attack Survivors
Deepika Padukone’s Chhapaak has infused a new intensity and passion into the way stories of acid attack survivors are told. While Chhapaak is inspired by Laxmi Aggarwal’s life, there are many more faces that have overturned the narrative on acid attacks. These narratives not only address the alarming regularity with which such incidences happen but also how we have failed to address key issues associated with factors that lead to acid attacks.
According to research by NGO Make Love Not Scars, 20 percent of the acid attacks happen because of land, business and property disputes. On the other hand, many attacks fuelled by unrequited love, rejection, rejection of sexual advance and dowry disagreements. While these attacks villainously aim to destroy a person’s identity and life in-turn, there are survivors who have successfully challenged this narrative. Here are some acid attack survivors who haven’t let the tinted social gaze that revers physical appearance bother them. Who are living their life today on their own terms, seeking happiness and success in every way possible.
The story that inspired Meghna Gulzar’s Chhapaak is that of Laxmi Aggarwal’s struggle with acid attack. According to Times Of India, 15-year-old Laxmi was attacked by her acquaintance Guddu and Rakhi. Guddu was a 32-year-old man who fell in love with her. He threw acid on her face because she rejected his marriage proposal. The attack caused her immense physical and mental trauma. She had to undergo seven surgeries. Later, she decided to knock the doors of the court for justice. She fought the case for four years after which, for the first time in the history of acid attacks, Guddu was sentenced to 10 years of jail and Rakhi for seven years. She told TOI, “People told my family to give me an injection that would kill me. That person attacked me once, but the society kept attacking me again and again with their negativity,”
Laxmi Agarwal later joined the Stop Acid Attack campaign and co-founded the Chhanv Foundation with her then partner Alok Dixit. As a part of Chhanv, she assists the acid attack survivors in treatments, legal aid, and rehabilitation. She also spearheaded the campaign the led the Supreme Court to impose restrictions on acid sales.Speaking about Chhapaak, Laxmi told TOI, “Never thought that an acid attack survivor’s face will also be recreated.”
People told my family to give me an injection that would kill me. That person attacked me once, but the society kept attacking me again and again with their negativity. – Laxmi Agarwal
Anmol was only two months old when her father threw acid on her mother who died of the burns. Anmol, who was in her mother’s lap at that moment suffered severe burns. She underwent many surgeries and ultimately she lost one of her eyes and her face was left severely disfigured.
Anmol was raised in an orphanage that added to the difficulties of socializing and making friends. She even had to quit her job because of the discrimination she faced. Today, she is also a fashion icon. She has modelled for several Instagram and YouTube channels and is currently the face of an online brand’s newly launched nightwears. Rodriguez said that acid can only change our face but not ruin our soul. “We are the same inside out and we should accept ourselves for who we are and live our lives happily,” said she.
Daulat Bi Khan
26-year old make-up artist Daulat was attacked by her own elder sister, her husband and son in retaliation to some property issues. After she recovered, she started looking for a job but had no success. Daulat co-founded the NGO Acid Attack Survivor Saahas Foundation in Mumbai providing counselling, education and employment opportunities to other survivors. The NGO has till now empowered as many as 26 acid attack survivors.
Reshma was 17 when she was attacked with acid. In May 2014 she was at the railway station in her hometown, Mau Aimain, returning from Allahabad after writing her 10th board exam and a group of four men that included her sister’s husband hurled acid on her face and disfigured it permanently. Reportedly, her brother-in-law mistook her for her sister. Reshma fought with depression for a long time after the attack.
Make your heart beautiful. Beauty is not just about how you look. – Reshma Qureshi
Reshma made her modelling debut in the online campaign #EndAcidSale which was a big hit. She has also appeared in YouTube videos to condemn the rampant selling of acids in markets of India, spread the need for strict sale regulation on acids. She grabbed media attention across the globe in 2016 when she walked the ramp at New York Fashion Week. Reshma is a vlogger too and has recently written a book titled Being Reshma describing her journey out of the depression. She said in an interview, “Make your heart beautiful. Beauty is not just about how you look.”
Dolly was 12 and in class four when she was attacked by a 25-year-old man named Pradeep who stalked her and passed lewd comments at her. The attack has damaged her facial tissues and nostrils and even today she finds it difficult to breathe. After restricting herself to her house for about a year, Dolly joined Sheroes café in Agra and began working with other acid attack survivors. Reportedly, she has also resumed her education. The accused was imprisoned in 2016. In a brave move, Dolly wrote a letter to him saying, “You burned my face, but not my will to live. You cannot throw acid on that. I will fight this, not only for myself but for other girls, so they do not lose their courage before people like you.”
In 2012, Bansi was attacked when she was visiting her home town for her cousin’s wedding. Reportedly, Bansi tried to stop a fight between her brother Sunny and her cousin Sham Babu. She was also going to get married and just fifteen days before her marriage, her cousin Sham Babu hurled acid on her face. She has undergone 17 surgeries since then. She is also a member of Daulat Bi Khan’s Acid Attack Survivor Sahas Foundation. In 2017, the 25-year-old acid survivor tied the knot with Ravi Shankar Singh after the two fell in love with each other.
These brave women have conquered immense pain and social shaming and proved that it is impossible to corrode someone’s resilience. In Dolly’s own words, “You burned my face, but not my will to live”
Rudrani Kumari is an intern with SheThePeople.TV.