“I am not a victim, I am a survivor. The man who attacked me will cover his face. I won’t” ― Laxmi Agarwal, a 15-year-old who survived an acid attack and has now grown into a woman who speaks for the rights of acid attack survivors and runs an NGO to that effect.
Around 300 acid attacks are recorded in India every year. One hot splash of acid charged with rage and deep-rooted patriarchy can change the lives of the survivors, facing them with physical pain and a life riddled with social ostracisation and a careless judicial system.
The survivor can be at their homes, workplace or even at their wedding at the time of the attack. The attacker can be a trusted relative, a stalker, a former lover or even a disgruntled colleague at the workplace.
According to an online report published by India Today, a total of 596 acid attack cases were reported in 2017 and 2018, with 623 victims falling prey, but data shows that only 149 people were charge-sheeted in each year. This is almost or less than half the number of incidents, each year. The lowest number of cases (244) was reported in 2014, with 201 people charge-sheeted.
Most of us have recently seen a cinematic representation of Laxmi’s story through Chhapaak, where Deepika Padukone played the character of Malti, based on the life of Laxmi. Without a real reference, many of us who are not aware of the incidence of acid attacks in the country, wouldn’t have understood the momentousness of the situation.
Like Laxmi Agarwal, Zakira Shaikh too survived a similar fate. Her marital life was painful not only emotionally, but also physically. She was constantly being beaten and sexually assaulted by her husband. It all took a turn for the worse when Zakira gave birth to her second girl child. Her husband, who wanted a boy instead, started abusing her more and was never responsible towards the children.
When Zakira demanded separation, her husband left home for a month only to return with false promises of being a better person. This didn’t even last for 3 days and when Zakira locked him out of the house, he threatened her with acid attack.
One afternoon after having a terrible fight, Zakira while napping woke up screaming as she felt something smouldering hot on her face. Her husband had done it, threw acid on her face and ran away leaving her behind, writing in pain.
The acid burnt Zakira’s face and she lost her left eye. Her struggle since has not only been physical, be it with all the surgeries and the pain from the attack but also societal.
She is left with little or no money and she also has to face the “unwanted gaze” of the public. And above everything else, the toughest challenge in front of her is to ensure a secure future for both her daughters.
Zakira survives with a stipulated amount that a Mumbai-based NGO helps her with on a monthly basis, but it is not enough for her to run her household, afford her medicines and also pay the school fees of her two girls. All Zakira’s dreams now revolve around educating her daughter so they can have a better and fuller shot at life.
Here’s a mother’s plea to the world, “I want to educate my girls and make sure they’re independent So that they dont suffer the same fate as me. Your help to contribute to my daughters’ education will provide them with a bright future.”
Help Zakira emerge a true survivor. Her husband might have ruined her face but let us not ruin her spirit to survive, her determination to build a better life for her daughters. One act of kindness on your part can change their lives. Stand by Zakira, help her send her daughters to school.
Former journalist Samabrita finally found a purpose to her passion for the written word when she joined the social sector. A Bengali from Calcutta she now lives in Bangalore with her husband and plant babies. You will mostly find her glued to her laptop typing and breathing life into her thoughts, binge-watching thrillers and chilling with friends and family.