“He changed my face, not my heart. He threw acid on my face, not on my dreams.”
-Laxmi Agarwal, Acid Attack Victim
Laxmi Agarwal, the ‘CHHAPAAK‘ girl and an Indian acid attack survivor, is a campaigner for the rights of acid attack victims and a TV host. Agarwal was attacked in 2005 at the age of 16, after rebuffing the romantic advances of Naeem Khan.
Pragyan Singh was attacked with acid only 12 days after her wedding in 2006. A man whose marriage proposal she had rejected threw acid on her face when she was travelling alone on a train.
Anmol Rodriguez, a successful model today was only two months old in 1997 when her father attacked her and her mother with acid. Anmol grew up in an orphanage and decided to pursue a career in fashion as she’d always been passionate about it.
Chandrahass Mishra, a 34-year-old businessman of Meerut was attacked with acid in 2011 by his landlord’s son for preventing him from harassing a woman.
If you are going through these now and are shocked, then there is not a reason to be. I will tell you why; our country has been going through such attacks since 1990. It all started only 43 years after we became independent. Shocking isn’t it! Yet there are only a finger count voices that raise to speak on this. Today acid attack has become a revolt, an awareness that needs to be addressed and talked upon. If not today then when can we expect to change the mindset of our people and when can we hope to create a better space for all of us to live in!
Acid Attack in India – Where does the nation stand today?
Acid attack is not something unheard of in India. It has shocked the conscience of our nation again and again – with mutilated faces, unbeaten survivors coming to the frontlines to share their horrific stories and families driven to bankruptcy supporting recovery costs. The Indian Penal Code was modified in 2013 for the first time to add regulations tailored to acid attacks. But have we done enough? Do enough of us care? Why should we care anymore than we do for general fight for women’s rights and safety in India about acid attacks?
Because acid attack is possibly the worst infliction on another human – leading to complete debilitation, loss of income and opportunity, and even social sequestration-and it can happen to anyone, at any time.The means to this evil remain quiet accessible to most and the causes provoking such malice can be unimaginably trivial.
Accepting a drink from a local shopkeeper? Or rebuking harassment on the streets? Just being at home sitting on a couch? These are all known causes of attacks on acid attack survivors. The story of Piyali Dutta – who got caught in a crossfire and now is an acid survivor for life. Sonali Mukherjee’s story – attacked while sleeping in her own house for standing up to harassment – is one that should keep all of us awake as it could have been, or still can be, anyone.
What factors allow such attacks? Un-counseled anger and frustration is behind the crimes as much as predisposition to sociopathic traits, and violence and societal chauvinism plays a significant role (85% of the victims are women). But the real
culprit to blame is the ease of getting away with it. Anger over rejection (41% of attacks in India from 2010-2013 was from spurned lovers) causes the desire to lash out and inherent disregard for women in specific and human suffering in general seeds the thought, but the lax laws – both to limit availability and to counter the crime – is what lets the perpetrators convert their thoughts into action.
” You should be able to diagnose and catalogue the
acidic, basic as well as neutral behavior of salty
people around you, so that it can be referred when
in need of prime emergency.“
Have You Met an Acid Attack Survivor?
Piyali Dutta– who got caught in a crossfire and now is an acid survivor for life. Sonali Mukherjee– who was attacked while sleeping in her own house for standing up to harassment- is one that should keep all of us awake as it could have been, or still can be, anyone.
Laxmi Agarwal of 22 years old, who was an acid attack survivor was waiting for a bus in Delhi’s tony khan market in 2005, when two men poured acid on her after she refused to marry one of them, leaving her disfigured.
In Devanand v. The State a man threw acid on his estranged wife because she refused to cohabit with him. The wife suffered permanent disfigurement and loss of one eye. The accused was convicted under Section 307 and was imprisoned for 7 years.
For some of the most inspiring stories of Acid attack survivors and how they have framed a recognition for themselves in the society.
India saw almost 1,500 acid attacks in five years
‘India Today Data Intelligence Unit (DIU) has found that between 2014 and 2018, there have been 1,483 victims of acid attacks in the country. This is according to data released by the National Crime Records Bureau.’
Whether Deepika Padukone’s support to students of Jawahar Nehru University (JNU) is a publicity stunt for ‘Chhapaak’ is a matter of debate, but the character of Laxmi Agarwal that she portrays on screen is the sad reality of India.
A total of 596 acid attack cases were reported in 2017 and 2018. (Representational Image: Getty Images)
Disfigured, taunted and shamed for no fault of theirs, victims of acid attacks have many a fight on their hands- trauma, a cold-hearted society and sluggish judicial system to name a few. And India Today Data Intelligence Unit (DIU) has found that between 2014 and 2018, there have been 1,483 victims of acid attacks in the country. This is according to data released by the National Crime Records Bureau.
The year 2017 witnessed the highest number of acid attacks; in these five years at 309, with 319 victims. But while 2017 was followed by 2018, unfortunately, the legal process shows a serious backlog for both years.
A total of 596 acid attack cases were reported in 2017 and 2018, with 623 victims falling prey, but data shows that only 149 people were charged in each year. This is almost or less than half the number of incidents in each year. The lowest number of cases (244) was reported in 2014, with 201 people charged.
Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Delhi have been consistently ranking among the 10 worst states in terms of acid attacks from 2014 to 2018.
These three states alone make up 42 percent of the victims of acid attacks in India during these five years.
In terms of convictions, there is a lot to be asked as well. The year 2015 saw the highest number of cases that went for trial – 734. At first glance, the conviction rate of 45.4 percent looks better than other crimes against women. But one of the 734 cases that went for trial, only 33 were completed.
The conviction rate is calculated as the percentage of cases convicted over trials completed. In 2016 and 2017, the conviction rate saw a decline with a total of 25 cases convicted out of 67 which completed trial, while a total of 849 cases were sent for trial in these two years.
The year 2018 saw an upturn in conviction rate with a figure as high as 61 percent, but out of 523 cases which went for trial, only 19 ended in conviction.
The ‘CHHAPAAK’ Girl – Finding her purpose.
“People always say that inner beauty and hardwork is what is important, but in reality, few people go beyond one’s physical features. More than a person’s capability, qualification and hard work, employers focus on the looks of an individual.”
The 28-year-old knows what she is talking about, as she is a survivor of a brutal hate crime and acid attack, which has gone on to shape her life’s mission: to help acid attack survivors find jobs and lead independent and dignified lives.
Laxmi was attacked in Delhi’s Khan Market in 2005 by her acquaintances, Guddu and Rakhi. Laxmi was 15 at that time and the act was seen as a revenge for Laxmi’s refusal to marry Guddu, her friend’s brother.
People especially women, would taunt her, call her names and even speak ill about her and family. They questioned her upbringing and faulted her for the attack. But the support from her parents gave Laxmi the courage to move ahead with the multiple surgeries she needed. While she was aware of the physical deformities caused by the acid attack, little was she prepared for the face that started back in the mirror 100 days after the incident.
But change was afoot for Laxmi, who refused to be enslaved by the injustice meted out to her. Slowly, with her parents’ support, she gained confidence and decided to start her diploma in vocational training at the National Institute of Open Schooling, Delhi. And in 2009, another big change happened.
“One day, I saw myself in the mirror and thought, ‘what is the
use of doing a beautification and tailoring course if I cover
my face?’ I decided that I had nothing to be ashamed of and I
removed the dupatta and started walking freely,” she recalls.
This move was met with a lot of resistance from her community and girls in her institution, but Laxmi was unfazed. With the support of her teacher and the institution, Laxmi completed her diploma.
In 2013, Laxmi became a part of the acid attack movement; one month after Alok Dixit and Ashish Shukla started the ‘Stop Acid Attacks’ campaign, their efforts culminated in the Chhanv Foundation in 2014. They campaigned aggressively and started a discussion around acid violence in the country. Further, through the foundation, Laxmi reached out to hundreds of victims and began to assist them with treatment, legal aid and rehabilitation. The patients are kept in their Delhi facility, where they are given counselling and treatment and prepared for rehabilitation.
“When I met survivors like me, I became angry.
Several others were suffering. Few didn’t even
have parental support; they needed money and
job oppurtunities. Society had shunned them
instead of the perpetrators. And I thought that
this is enough! We can’t keep quiet anymore.”
The public outcry against rape and women’s safety was at an all-time high post the Nirbhaya rape case, and this boosted Laxmi’s zeal and passion to fight against acid violence. Through her cafe, Sheroes, in the busy Fatehabad Road of Agra, she began to employ acid attack victims and provided livelihood oppurtunities.
“A job opportunity boost the confidence of not just
the survivor but also her family. At the same time it
offers both the public and us, survivors, to interact
in the open and become sensitised,” she explains.
Through her foundation, she hopes to spread awareness about the plight of acid survivors and simultaneously educate the society about the need for men to respect women, understand their consent and fight for women’s rights.
Acid attack survivors in India are now given rights under the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016. Following a writ petition by Laxmi in 2006, the Supreme Court, in July 2013, passed orders that led to the regulation of the sale of acid, compensation for the victims, after-care and rehabilitation of the survivors, limited compensation from the government, reservation in educational institutions and easier access to jobs.
The much needed dialogue about acid attacks has started in India, thanks to the bravery shown by survivors like Laxmi.
“I tell my story to give hope to the parents and victims
of survivors. Through my story, I want to tell all the
women to support one another, become our strength
and help fight this menace of violence against women.
This can happen to anyone and we can stop it when
we fight together, and educate the children about
Scars cannot stop them!
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 Agarwal’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 led to acid attacks.
“ 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.“
Anmol Rodriguez, Daulat Bi Khan, Reshma Quereshi, Dolly, Lalitha Bansi are a few of the many brave women who have conquered immense pain and social shaming and proved that it is impossible to corrode someone’s resilience.
” Make your heart beautiful. Beauty is not just about how
you look. “