“Acid can only change our face but not ruin our soul. We are same inside out.” #Sheroes #Chhapaak
The newly-dropped trailer of the film Chhapaak, which stars Deepika Padukone and narrates the heartwrenching story of Laxmi Agarwal, an acid attack survivor, is garnering accolades from all over.
Laxmi, who faced the gruesome attack as a minor, is now striving to address the menace at its root—by prohibiting the rampant sale of acid in the market. Her efforts have gone a long way in drawing stricter laws in the country on the sale and availability of acid, as well as in supporting thousands of acid attack survivors across the nation.
Today, Laxmi is a beacon of inspiration for everyone. Like her, several other acid attack survivors did not let the ordeal define the trajectory of their lives and have gone on to achieve exemplary heights in professional or personal domains.
The Better India presents the stories of some of these women—and men—who rose from the ashes like phoenixes and are carrying thousands more on their wings.
1. Pragya Singh
It was 2006. Barely 12 days after her wedding, 23-year-old Pragya Singh was travelling alone in a train from her hometown, Varanasi, to Delhi, to pursue a career in apparel management.
At 2 AM, while she was sound asleep, a man, whose marriage proposal she had turned down, threw acid on her face. The incident claimed the sight in one of her eyes and the young woman had to undergo almost fifteen surgeries.
Seven years later, with the support of her husband and friends, Pragya raised Rs 30,000 to start Atijeevan Foundation, an NGO which arranges free surgeries and non-surgical treatments for acid attack and burn survivors, along with post-op counselling and skill-development workshops, to help them get a fresh start. She is also a mother to two wonderful daughters.
2. Daulat Bi Khan
A resident of Mumbai, Daulat faced the brutal acid assault at the age of 26, at the hands of her elder sister and brother-in-law.
She underwent multiple reconstruction surgeries, and faced societal ostracisation for her changed appearance. But, giving up on life was never an option for the iron-willed lady.
In 2016, she founded Acid Survivors Saahas Foundation, a haven for acid attack survivors in Mumbai. It provides multi-pronged support to the survivors—ranging from legal assistance to medical care as well as creating employment opportunities.
3. Anmol Rodriguez
Anmol was a two-month-old infant being breastfed by her mother, when her father doused them with a whole can of acid in an attempt to murder them.
While her mother succumbed to her wounds, baby Anmol miraculously survived. She spent her early childhood in and out of operation theatres and hospital beds and was finally shifted to an orphanage where she was brought up.
Due to burn scars all over, her physical appearance always kept her isolated from the other kids—a trauma she bore till her college days. But there came a turning point; a moment of revelation when Anmol resolved not to let her appearance decide her life.
She had always been passionate about fashion and decided to pursue a career in the same. Now, at 23, Anmol is a successful model with hundreds of modelling contracts in her kitty. Alongside, she has also helped over 20 acid attack survivors land mainstream job offers.
4. Chandrahass Mishra
Contrary to popular notion, men also endure vicious acid attacks. In fact, according to the National Crime Record Bureau, men make up nearly 40 per cent of acid attack victims in India.
In most cases, men face acid attacks during a domestic dispute or a professional rivalry. But Meerut resident Chandrahass Mishra was attacked at 27 for preventing a molestation attempt on a woman.
The attacker was his landlord’s son, whom Chandrahass caught harassing a woman on the street. When he thwarted the attempt, the culprit threatened him with fatal consequences. But Chandrahass remained undaunted and went ahead to complain to his landlord about his son’s behaviour.
The following day, the son threw a bucket full of acid on him, leaving him with over 40% burns and lifelong trauma. Today, 34-year-old businessman Chandrahaas is an activist for male acid attack survivors. He is also a coordinator with the NGOs Acid Survivors and Women Welfare Foundation.
5. Firoz Khan
Firoz was attacked nearly 15 years ago when he tried to stop a scuffle between his brother and his neighbour. The scorned neighbour returned with a bucket full of acid and started throwing mug after mug of the same on him.
Today, at 42, Firoz Khan is still recovering from his wounds and social stigma. But he refuses to give up hope and continues to live a regular life at his Delhi home.
These unsung heroes live amongst us, inspiring us with their fight and determination.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)
Featured Image credits: Twitter/Meghna Gulzar