Trigger warning: Mentions of acid attack, violence against women
In Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, he spoke about ‘Survival of the fittest’. He implied that only the strongest would survive. One person who embodies this theory is Dr Mahalakshmi YN from Mysuru. An acid attack survivor, she believes in giving back to society as a doctor.
What’s special about this doctor’s life is that she is helping the same society that did not come to her aid when she needed it the most.
On 11 January 2001, a 26-year-old Dr Mahalakshmi was headed home from her clinic, when a man, whose advances she had spurned, threw acid on her.
“As I lay down in the street, crying, in a lot of pain, nobody came to help me. People locked themselves in their houses. Nobody gave me water. However, as I was recovering, I decided that I should do something for this society. I would not treat them like how they treated me,” says Dr Mahalakshmi.
The person who attacked her was the landlord who she had rented her clinic from. He would follow her and misbehave. The doctor then filed a police complaint against him, and when she refused to withdraw the complaint, he attacked her.
Acid attacks are one of the most devastating forms of social injustices on a woman. It causes disfigurement and disability. One needs a lot of courage and consistency to come out of it.– Dr Mahalakshmi
With the help and support of her parents and two sisters, she says she was able to recover. She waged a long legal battle against her harasser who was convicted by the Karnataka High Court in 2012 and sentenced to three years imprisonment.
“In 2001, the laws were not so stringent. Later, the law was amended to give a minimum of ten years of rigorous imprisonment to acid attackers. I’m glad that the law has been changed and the judiciary is helping acid attack victims,” adds the doctor.
‘Important to educate women’
After spending a year in recovery and over 25 reconstructive surgeries, the doctor has been working as a medical officer with the Karnataka Government Health and Family Services at the Agrahara Old Primary Health Centre (PHC) in Mysuru for over two decades.
She says that for a woman to come out of this, one needs education, patience, a strong support system, consistent treatment, and willpower.
“When one goes through it, it is absolutely heart-wrenching. I would just lay in bed for over a year, thinking of what to do. When one becomes disabled in their 20s, it’s very difficult to accept. Your entire life goes for a toss, in that one second. You have to be mentally very strong, as the recovery process is laborious. It doesn’t happen overnight, or over a fortnight. You have to be consistent with your treatment. Reconstructive surgery cannot be done in one sitting, as acid is a dangerous, poisonous chemical,” adds the survivor.
She also adds that one needs to be occupied to come out of it, and the best way for that, according to her, is to have an education. Her MBBS from Mysore Medical College helped her.
“Education is important for a woman to face society with determination and courage when such a heinous attack takes place. I was able to come out of it as I started healing people. I feel satisfied that I can relieve somebody’s pain. It lets me sleep peacefully at night,” adds the doctor.
A support system is also integral.
“My parents and sisters were my rock. My father is an advocate and my mother was my greatest source of inspiration. They helped me face this difficult situation. I was able to bear the trauma and agony thanks to them,” says Dr Mahalakshmi.
Today, this doctor sees at least 60-80 patients daily and offers to counsel them over and above the physical check-ups. “We see all kinds of people at the hospital. Most women have domestic issues. I concentrate on their personal issues too and give them courage. Being mentally fit is very important. I would call a person healthy only if their mental and physical state is all right,” says the doctor.
For acid attack survivors, Dr Mahalaxmi has one strong message — “Don’t let your disability or disfigurement be a hindrance to facing society”. While the four pillars of democracy are aiding acid attack survivors, it is now society’s turn to change.
“Our society needs to change. Why should an acid attack survivor sit inside four walls? Shouldn’t the attacker be ashamed? Acid attacks usually happen because the attacker wants to destroy the beauty of a woman. Beauty is not just outer appearance, it lies in the goodness of our hearts. I have taken it upon myself to bring awareness about this and stop social injustice for women,” says Dr Mahalakshmi.
She also runs a telegram group called ‘Women Empowerment’.
You can contact Dr Mahalakshmi on Whatsapp on +91-9019574358 if you need counselling or help.
Edited by Yoshita Rao, Images Courtesy Dr Mahalakshmi
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