TBI BLOGS: 13 Surgeries Later, This Acid Attack Survivor Still Has the Spirit to Fight it Out

Make Love Not Scars (MLNS) is a voluntary youth organisation that supports and helps in rehabilitation of survivors of gender-based violence, with a specific focus on acid attack survivors.

An acid attack by a trusted friend and neighbour changed Reena’s life forever.

Life changes dramatically when something that you never thought of even in your wildest dreams happens to you.

Twenty-year-old Reena’s life turned upside down when her friendship with a neighbour took a drastic turn.

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They were classmates in school back in their village near Pratapgarh, Uttar Pradesh.  He proposed marriage to Reena but she rejected his offer as she wanted to study further. He simply could not accept her decision and persisted in wooing her. She continued to resist. Just when she thought things had settled down, the unexpected happened.

One day in April 2013, when they had to go to school for their exam, he asked if he could accompany her. She waited for him but he did not show up. So she asked her uncle to drop her to school on his two-wheeler. On the way, she noticed a bike following them. She felt something was not right when she saw the two men riding the bike had their faces covered.

Suddenly, the man riding pillion shouted at her when she looked in their direction. She felt something very hard hit her face. Her immediate thought was that it was a water-balloon on account of the festival of Holi. But, when her face started to burn, she realised it wasn’t a balloon – it was acid.

“The way I screamed for help at that moment, I can never ever scream again even if I wish to. I thought I would die in that instant.”

Sketch by Pankaj Sharma

Reena fell unconscious, crying for help. Her uncle had also been hurt on his back in the acid attack. Passersby took them to her village nearby, where they poured water on her.

The acid had burnt through one side of Reena’s face, even as she tried to protect it with her hands. She lost one eye in the attack, and the acid also burnt both her arms. Even after treatment at Delhi’s Safdarjung Hospital and Gangaram Hospital, with help from the team at Make Love Not Scars (an NGO that works with victims of acid attacks) and lawyers from the Human Rights Law Network (HRLN), her face remains scarred and she cannot see from her left eye.

“My life has changed drastically.  I cannot go out freely in the village because the people there look at me differently, they mock me and my face. My mother cannot see me like this and when we meet we cry most of the time—she has a very weak of heart and I cannot see her cry so I have stopped going to the village.”

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Reena now lives at Delhi’s Railway Quarters on Minto Road, where the Make Love Not Scars team visited her. Her father works on contract with the Indian Railways and sustains a family of five. She stays with her father and younger sister in Delhi, while her mother and younger brother stay in her village.

Reena regrets the fact that because of the acid attack the education of her siblings has suffered. Her younger sister, who was in Class 9 when Reena was attacked, remains at home and does not go to school.

But Reena wants her to study and also wants to continue studying herself.

Sketch by Vinay Dagar

“My father has had to face so much because of me. He sold our land to arrange for money for my treatment and he is under a lot of debt just because he wanted me to survive. He has done so much for me, putting himself to so much trouble.”

Reena made tea for the Make Love Not Scars team and showed them the sweater her elder sister’s son was wearing – she had knitted it for him. She spends her time doing household chores as she does not want to burden her sister with taking care of the house by herself. Her neighbours in Delhi are very supportive and treat her well, unlike the people back in her village. She tries reading when she finds time and likes to stay aware of what is happening in the world around her.

“I wish I could study and get a job, and help my father settle the debts he is facing just because of me. I also want to see my sister going to school again.”

She has already had 13 surgeries on her face and neck and her family has run up a debt of Rs 10 lakh. Not beaten by the painful surgeries and her monetary difficulties, Reena has currently enrolled for a Bachelor of Arts programme through correspondence, and is keen to complete her studies. She also wants to learn basic computers so she can get a part-time job and support her father.

Reena’s sister is unable to go to school back in her village but, encouraged by Reena, she has taken up a beautician’s course and is keen to start working at a beauty parlour soon.

If you wish to help Reena with her studies, please mail [email protected]

Text: Gagandeep Singh Vaid & Bhagirath Iyer;  Sketches: Pankaj Sharma, Vinay Dagar and Devyani Srivastava;  Photographs: Detlev Konnerth

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