Like a phoenix…
Laxmi, a victim of an acid attack in New Delhi nine years ago and now a standard-bearer for Stop Acid Attacks campaign, has been selected by the US for the prestigious International Women of the Courage Award
By Sumithra Sathyan
Laxmi’s story is heart-rending. Please don’t ask who is Laxmi. You may know so many girls with the name Laxmi, but this laxmi is different, a living example for how cruel a human being can be against another for virtually no reasons. She was a beautiful girl nine years ago, aged 16, like your sister or friend, living happily in New Delhi with her parents and young brother.
One day, in 2005, she was waiting for bus at the busy Khan Market in New Delhi. Suddenly an acquaintance sprung up from nowhere and threw acid on her face , disfiguring her permanently. The attack was pre- planned.
Her attacker, a 32-year old brother of one of her friends, wanted to use the acid to destroy Laxmi’s face for refusing to respond favourably to his romantic advances.
“ I kept screaming for help but no one stepped forth. Everyone ran in the opposite direction. I could feel my flesh burning and I covered my eyes with my arms. That reflex action saved me from losing my vision.” Laxmi says about the never ever forgettable incident that ruined her life forever.
‘’Acid corrodes quickly. Within a few seconds, I had lost my face, my ear had melted and both my arms were charred black. A politician’s driver took me to a hospital, where I was to stay for the next 10 weeks. The doctors had to remove the entire skin from my face and keep it bandaged. I’ve already had seven surgeries and need at least four more before I can go in for plastic surgery, provided I can afford it.
I learnt to live with the physical pain but what hurt me more was the way the society reacted. My own relatives stopped seeing me, as did my friends. I stayed indoors for eight years .’’ Laxmi says .
Is it our fault ?
Laxmi tried to pick up a job but nobody was willing to hire her. She tried in BPOs, banks and beauty parlours but all she got was rejection. Nobody wants to hire acid victims because of the way they look.
‘’ But I ask you, is it our fault? Society accepts those born blind or those who are physically challenged. Why are we shunned? If you ask me, we are worse off than rape victims because with our faces burnt, we seem to have lost our identity.’’ Laxmi says .
The only support she got was from her parents, doctor , her lawyer Aparna Bhatt and from the couple at whose house her father worked. They paid for the surgeries and are still in touch with Laxmi’s family .
As her parents were trying cope with the tragedy in her life, her brother came down with tuberculosis and her father died. She was shattered for the second time.
‘’ After my father’s death, being the eldest in the family, besides Smy mother, I had to take care of the family. My mother had to be with my brother all the time. I felt really upset that she could not spend any time with me.
I gathered myself together and pursued my case in court. My lawyer had filed a petition in the Supreme Court, asking for a ban of the sale of acid.’’ Laxmi says.
Slowly, she started getting in touch with the other victims, most of whom are blinded or have lost their hearing. Each one of them are poor and cannot afford multiple surgeries.
She started an online petition and was happy when 27,000 people signed it. She went to the Home Ministry to submit it to the minister, Sushil Kumar Shinde. ‘’ We waited for three hours but he didn’t have even five minutes for us. I had to finally “ambush” his car to hand over the petition.’’ Laxmi says.
In the meantime, Nahim Khan, the man who had attacked Laxmi with acid, went to jail after the court awarded him a seven-year sentence.
Many acid attack victims never return to normal life: they often go great lengths to hide their disfigurement. But Laxmi did not hide herself.
Life has been slowly picking up. Her work for the acid attack victims has been noticed and recognised internationally. Her Stop Acid Attacks campaign was selected by the US for the prestigious International Women of the Courage Award.
There have been changes in her personal life too. Last year she met Alok Dixit, a 26-year-old journalist who supported her campaign. They fell in love and decided to live together. She has also found a job as a television news anchor.
Laxmi’s petition made the Supreme Court to order the Indian central and state governments to regulate immediately the sale of acid, and the Parliament to make prosecutions of acid attacks easier to pursue. Much is left to be done.
From France with a passion for AyurvedaWith love for Indian art and culture, this French woman arrived in India and later married a Keralite and settled down in Kottayam. An exponent of Ayurveda and holistic treatment, she is on a mission to promote natural lifestyle through Ayurveda and natural farming. ... Read more
Taking up cudgels against breast cancerDo you know one out of eight women will end up with cancer in their lifetime? Shocking right! Has anyone of you thought of how could this alarming situation be tackled? Premi Mathew hailing from Kochi has a clear idea of resolving this menace. ‘Protect your Mom’and ‘Hair for Hope’are the initiatives ... Read more
Giving a new lease of lifeInnovative methods of treatments could bring out remarkable results in many chronic illnesses. When old ways of treatment fail, new ones succeed, provided there should be a leading light to pave the new path ... Read more
Coming donor breast milk banks!It is a revolution of sort in the care of preterm babies. Donor breast milk banks are coming up in the country following the developed countries to provide succour to these babies ... Read more
A bicycle ride to healthy lifeRushing to offices in luxury cars, gobbling up junk food and lack of exerciseis what we often come across in big cities. Bequeathing a great sigh of relief to those who are juggling their life from the hectic schedule, Athi’s Bicycle Club (ABC) is on a health ride providing bicycles in the major ... Read more
Bringing smile on their facesSmile is the most beautiful expression but there are some people who are just waiting to smile at least once in their life time.Yes! The cleft lip patients are the ones who are dying for an opportunity to express their happiness through their smile. These hapless children who are suffering from a ... Read more