‘I don’t cover my face anymore, I am proud of who I am’

Continuing with our series on strong, independent women we bring you the courageous story of Laxmi Agarwal who overcame both physical and mental scars and helped empower acid attack survivors. She has been through difficult times herself and has overcome all odds to stand where she is today. Along with Laxmi, another confident crusader for acid attack victims is Sia Parker, who is promoting awareness on skin donation, which ultimately help in treating acid attack survivors through plastic surgery

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‘‘तेजाब हर किसी के दिमाग में है, दिमाग से तेजाब को निकालने कि जरूरत है, यदि ऐसा होगा तो अॅसिड अॅटॅक के मामले घट सकते है |’’ (Everyone has acid inside their minds, we need to remove this acid from their mind-set. If this happens it can help reduce the number of acid attack cases.)

This is what Laxmi Agarwal; an acid attack survivor has to say about people in society.

Laxmi was attacked by a man in 2005 after she rejected his marriage proposal. Laxmi Agarwal, a Delhi resident, was attacked at the age of 15 and had to undergo several surgeries.

In 2006, Laxmi filed a PIL seeking framing of a new law or an amendment to for acid attack survivors.

In 2013, the Supreme Court ruled in her favour and laid down the punishment for acid-throwing – 10 years of imprisonment which can extend up to a lifetime, with a penalty.

Later, she helped acid attack survivors and promoted campaigns to stop acid attacks. She even received the US State Department’s International Women of Courage Award in 2014 from Michelle Obama. She is the director of Chhanv Foundation, a NGO dedicated to help the survivors of acid attacks in India.

A single mother of a three-year-old girl, she has made it a mission to empower acid attack victims. As she has had a first-hand experience with discrimination that people like her face.

Reportedly, Deepika Padukone has taken up the role of acid attack survivor Laxmi Agarwal in a Meghna Gulzar directorial. Not only this, the Padukone has also decided to turn producer with the film.The yet-untitled film will be based on the life of Laxmi.

While speaking to My Medical Mantra, Lakshmi, said, “I had acid flung on my face at a very young age. This badly damaged my face; people began to view me in a different manner after this. When I walked down the street, people would make unsavoury comments about me behind my back.”

She added, “They used to say ‘she looks attractive from the back, but ugly from the front.’ Our relatives deserted me and my family; they asked my parents who will marry me. They even advised them to kill me with the help of injections.”

Agarwal further said, “My family firmly stood by me amidst all of this, I am here today because of them. I am what I am today with the help of their support.”

She added on to say, “Earlier, I used to cover my face while walking down the street. But I don’t do that anymore. I’m proud of who I am. Let people say what they want to say.”

Agarwal had to face difficult times too. She said, “My father passed away in 2012. After this I had to shoulder the financial responsibility of looking after my family. I faced a lot of discrimination when I went to search for a job. Many people rejected me due to the way I looked. During this time, I met several acid attack survivors who faced the same problems like me, and I decided that I have to do something for them. ”

Agarwal stated, “I then began to raise awareness about acid attacks victims. The other acid survivors took an inspiration from me, they thought to themselves, ‘if she can do it, even we can stand on our own two feet.’ They also got back the courage and reopened their court cases.”

Laxmi further said, “Even today, people view acid attack survivors in a negative manner. They need to change the way they think and change their mind-set and that is why I have decided to campaign for the rights and dignity of acid attack survivors.”

Even though the Supreme Court has banned the illegal sale of acid, we still see dealers who still sell acid without a license. On July 10, 2018 we ran a campaign is named Stop Sale Acid in six place, namely, Chandigarh, Uttarakhand, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Mumbai.

Through the campaign Laxmi spoke to shop owners and made them aware about the dangers of selling acid and how people can misuse it. After this the sellers agreed not to sell acid anymore.

Apart from Laxmi, a Mumbaikar named Sia Parker is doing her best to promote awareness about skin donation as it helps acid attack victims in the process of plastic surgery.

Back in 2007, Sia Parkar was attacked in Mumbai, with kerosene. While speaking to My Medical Mantra, Sia said, “After the attack, my face was burnt. I was too scared to face myself in the mirror. I suffered from depression for about six months. However, with the help of people close to me, I stood back on my feet.”

Sia further says, “Those who have suffered more than 60% burns, for them, plastic surgery is an option. However, the donor should donate his/her skin when he is alive or within six hours after the death. Only a few people come forward to donate skin, and no one comes forward to donate skin when he or she is alive. So, we are trying to spread awareness for skin donation.”

Many among us are unaware of skin donation and its importance but those who suffered an acid attack, and for them, skin donation is like getting life back.

People still look up to the acid attack victims with a set mind-set. The society should change the mind-set and make sure that we will help these victims to spread their wings to achieve their dreams.