Acid Attack Victim: We live in a world that expects women to look a certain way. This also constitutes to why so many acid attacks happen. They are done to harm the face, image and subsequently, self-worth, with the motive of making a girl undesirable for other men.
But the motive of attackers is destroyed by people who choose to look beyond these scars.
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.
Chhapaak, the much-anticipated Bollywood movie starring Padukone, may give Laxmi and her cause more visibility, but her inspiring crusade has brought hope to acid attack survivors time and again for a while now. In an interaction with SocialStory, Laxmi speaks of how her purpose became clear to her one fine day.
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The brutal attack
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.
The Social Outlook
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 stared back in the mirror 100 days after the incident.
Laxmi was so traumatized that she contemplated suicide. But thinking of the pain she would cause her parents, she decided to end such thoughts. Instead, Laxmi chose to confide in her parents, who encouraged her to seek counselling. Simultaneously, she also decided to take her case to the court, and the trial went on for four years. The result: Guddu was sentenced to 10 years in jail, and Rakhi was imprisoned for seven years.
When the real purpose unfolded!
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 are prepared for rehabilitation.
She says, “When I met more survivors like me, I became angry. Several others were suffering. Few didn’t even have parental support; they needed money and job opportunities. 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 opportunities.
“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 flight for women rights.
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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.