SCARRED PHYSICALLY BUT THEIR HEART IS NO LESS THAN A HERO.
The first man a little girl falls in love with, is her Dad. But Neetu could not. She was just 3, happy in her own world unknown of the happenings around. She played with her sisters, cared for them being the eldest of the three. But one unfortunate day, her father scarred the beauty of a father-daughter relationship. He threw acid on her for he wanted a son.
Neetu, her mother Seema, and her infant sister became the victims of the man of their family. The little baby succumbed to the burns by the acid while Neetu and Seema have been fighting for justice since then. The horrendous act has defaced them forever but even after 24 years of suffering, justice seems to be nowhere. Neetu’s father was free after a few attests and bails. A cafe in Agra is now the only support to these women.
Sheroes Hangout, a cafe in Agra rehabilitates the acid attack victims and brings them together to fight against this heinous crime. This cafe is an initiative by the “Stop Acid Attack” campaign in association with NGO Chhanv. The women working at Sheroes are survivors themselves. They are doing much more than just serving up a cup of coffee — they are sharing their personal stories of courage and bravery. They say, “We are not victims—we are Survivors, we are fighters.”
“Pay as you like”, this new concept of no priced menu in the cafe asks the visitors to invest their time instead of money. The delicacies prepared in the cafe reflect the life these women have lived so far. Tossed in fire, but still, they are beautiful, sprinkled with flavours of courage and optimism.
These attacks have marred not only the survivor but also India’s image. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, more than 1,000 acid attack crimes are committed around the country each year but most of them go unreported because of the fear of being attacked again. Nearly 349 attacks were reported in 2014 alone.
The much-noted reason for this crime is an unrequited love as faced by Ritu. When she ignored the proposal of her cousin brother, he planned to burn her face. A 55-year old man attacked Anshu after she complained her family of his sexual advances towards her. Other cases have been due to dowry or in want of a male child. Attackers have thrown acid over petty issues of arguments and jealousy.
These attacks don’t just physically damage the survivor, but are a murder of mind and condemn them to a lifetime of suffering. They face social isolation and have seen people frightened by their appearance. They face employment crisis and in some cases their families disown them. The expensive surgeries they undergo through cost around Rs. 2-4 lakhs, which add on to the misery of theses women in pain.
Earlier acid attacks were counted as violence against women, but the protests and the campaign with the insertion of Section 326A in the Indian Penal Code recognised them as a distinct crime. Lakshmi became the voice of the acid attack survivors across the world by launching the ‘Stop Acid Attack’ campaign. Instead of shutting herself in the agony of scars, she came out to fight for the ban of acid. Her life grew after this campaign and she is now a mother of a two-year-old daughter.
The irony is that acid can easily be purchased at Rs. 25 a bottle. The government has regulated the sale of concentrated acid but the implementation and checking of the rules are a distant reality. Also, the culprits move freely after getting bail while the survivors wait for trials with their faces covered. Though many other cases are pending, the government recently showed a ray of hope after giving death sentence to the culprit of Late Preeti Rathi, the acid attack victim who lost the battle of life in 2013.
Sheroes Hangout brought them out of their covered faces and spaces in the open to fight against the wrong and pursue their dreams. These survivors break the stereotypical meaning of beauty proving that confidence is the new face of beauty. Also, they are the icons of inner beauty and the never-say-die attitude of a woman’s spirit. While other girls fret and fume over a pimple in front of the mirror every morning, these extraordinary women dare to wear their scars and face the world every day.
Scars snaked their face, but their soul cries out for justice. Acid disfigured their skin but not their heart. They are brave. They are beautiful. They are SHEROES.