“While the other passengers were dumbfounded, seeing my molten skin and burning clothes, the doctor wrapped her dupatta around me and kept on sprinkling water on my face.”
“An acid attack is not a death sentence,” begins Pragya Singh, who survived fifteen surgeries after her attack, to create a safe space named Atijeevan that has changed the lives of hundreds of acid attack and burn survivors.
A person’s identity goes beyond their faces or physical appearances. This is why we chose the slogan, “I am not my face,” says Pragya, who was attacked in 2006, 12 days after her wedding.
She was travelling on a train from her hometown, Varanasi to Delhi, to pursue a career in apparel management, when a man threw acid on her face for having rejected his marriage proposal.
Seven years later, Pragya, with the support of her husband and friends raised Rs 30,000 to start Atijeevan Foundation. It is an NGO, which arranges free surgeries and non-surgical treatments for acid attack and burn victims, along with post-op counselling and skill-development workshops, to help them get a fresh start.
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So far, Atijeevan has funded crucial surgeries like skin grafting, hair transplant and even reconstructive surgeries for over 250 acid attack survivors hailing from various parts of Uttar Pradesh, Delhi-NCR, and West Bengal.
It has also offered counselling services to many of them.
“Most of the survivors had to endure the horrifying experience at the prime of their youth or even adolescence, so they retreated within the confines of their homes. Besides, their health does not permit them to opt for 9-5 office jobs. So, we provide them training on vocations that can be practised from home at their discretion,” adds Pragya.
Additionally, through its workshops, Atijeevan also teaches them to make decorative items, home furnishings, stitching clothes, knitting and similar crafts, owing to which many have even started their own handicrafts or tailoring businesses.
Her relentless efforts to bring about this change was recently honoured with the prestigious ‘Nari Shakti Purashkar’ by the President of India.
This award has been an enormous encouragement pushing her to focus on the expansion of Atijeevan’s work to other parts of the country as well, so that more survivors can find a haven, where they can dream of a new life, beyond their recurring nightmares and trauma.
Although women constitute the largest number of acid attack victims in India, many men and children are also faced with this appalling menace. According to Pragya, around 20% of Atijeevan’s beneficiaries are men and children.
Now a social worker and a mother of two daughters, Pragya dreams of a future where the society is more accepting and welcoming of the survivors.
“Instead of alienating or pitying them, people should accept them as human souls with dignity. They should not be identified as survivors, rather as bravehearts whose spirits cannot be thwarted at any cost,” she concludes.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)