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Chhapaak – A new hope for acid attack survivors

India has made international headlines for horrific rape cases in recent years, but acid attacks are common too although they receive less attention

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Since ages, men and women have been subjected to acid attacks after which they go in deep depression and end their lives in dark rooms. Acid attacks in India is on the rise and the women who survive such attacks are forced to live as outcasts. India has made international headlines for horrific rape cases in recent years, but acid attacks are common too although they receive less attention. Despite laws restricting the sale of acid, there are 250 to 300 acid attacks or by other deadly chemicals reported in India every year, according to Stop Acid Attacks, a non-profit group.

Despite stricter laws and punishments, the number of acid attacks in India continues to increase. Statistics show a clear increase in the number of acid attacks in the South Asian country in recent years. At least 106 such attacks were reported in 2012. And that figure rose to 122 in 2013 and 349 in 2014. Activists say that that the figure rose to over 500 in 2015. There are many unreported cases of acid attacks in which victims die especially in rural areas. Sometimes, people try to hide information if the attacker was the husband or a family member of the victim. The victims are attacked over domestic or land disputes, a rejected marriage proposal or spurned sexual advances. Acid attacked victims had no social acceptance and resource to stand back, but now the scenarios have changed. With growing awareness and adequate support to victims gives new hope and confidence. There is social acceptance and there is kindness in people’s heart that is voluntarily giving support to such fellow human.

Thankfully, Bollywood personalities like Deepika Padukone and Meghna Gulzar took up this subject to the silver screen and gained a lot of respect. Chhapaak (Splash) is a Hindi-language drama film based on the life of Laxmi Agarwal that stars Padukone as an acid attack survivor alongside Vikrant Massey and Madhurjeet Sarghi.

Laxmi Agarwal and her partner inspired many men to come forward and take a step ahead. She was an acid attack survivor who spoke for the rights of acid attack victims and gave voices to such victims. Since then, the society at large is openly speaking about the same. Not only that, but also many celebrities have come forward to help them voluntarily. The victims have got life partners too. Laxmi was attacked in 2005 by a 32-year-old man Naeem Khan alias Guddu whose advances she had rejected when she was just 15. Her story, among others, was told in a series on acid attack victims in a media report.  She has also advocated against acid attacks by gathering 27,000 signatures for a petition to curb acid sales and taking that cause to the Indian Supreme Court. Her petition led the Supreme Court to order the central and state governments to regulate the sale of acid and the Parliament to make prosecutions of acid attacks easier to pursue.

In 2014, she fell in love with social activist Alok Dixit. Both decided not to get married and instead be in a live-in relationship. They decided to live together until death. But later on, they tied themselves in a wedlock. Now, they have a beautiful daughter too.

This particular love story has set examples for many youth. Since then, there are numerous stories of acid attack victims getting married and extending families. Laxmi is the director of Chhanv Foundation, a NGO dedicated to help the survivors of acid attacks in India. Incidentally, she received a 2014 International Women of Courage award by US First Lady Michelle Obama. Since she has taken up this issue to the globe, now there are many victims who follow her footsteps and all are doing reasonably well for their future life.

Trustworthy statistics for the crime are difficult to ascertain. The Indian government confirmed the number of female acid attack victims as 98 in 2011, 85 in 2012 and 80 in 2013. But acid survivor support groups say these figures are misleading and do not account for the many cases that go unreported as well as those involving male victims. Instances of acid attacks have been reported in nearly all parts of the world. What has changed now is the outlook, people are openly condemning such attacks and society at large has stood by the victims in recent past. Brave young women who suffered a horrific acid attacks have spoken out against the culprits. They are strongly holding their foot in the ground and yet trying to live with dignity.

Acid attack is not something unnoticed in India. It has stunned the morality of our nation again and again with mutilated faces, unbeaten survivors coming to the frontlines to share their horrific stories and families driven to bankruptcy supporting recovery costs. The Indian Penal Code was modified in 2013 for the first time to add regulations tailored to acid attacks. Acid attack is possibly the worst infliction on another human – leading to complete debilitation, loss of income and opportunity and even social sequestration. It can happen to anyone, at any time. The means to this evil remain quite accessible to most and the causes provoking such cruelty can be incredibly trivial. 85 per cent of victims are women, so acid attack can overwhelmingly be classified as gender violence. For the 15 per cent male victims, the primary cause of attack is property dispute or jealousy.

The reason for an attack might be anything, but these odd acts of people have not deterred good people to come forward and lend their hand in all capacities. The society is changing, its people are more mature and sensitive towards these victims and every day there is new hope in their lives. There are many who can raise their voices unless they are heard and attended to. Chhapaak is one such story and subject that needs utmost attention. Hope this movie makes a lot of difference to the mindset of those men who can go to any extent to deface a woman.

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Vaidehi Taman
Vaidehi Taman
Vaidehi Taman an Accredited Journalist from Maharashtra is bestowed with three Honourary Doctorate in Journalism. Vaidehi has been an active journalist for the past 21 years, and is also the founding editor of an English daily tabloid – Afternoon Voice, a Marathi web portal – Mumbai Manoos, and The Democracy digital video news portal is her brain child. Vaidehi has three books in her name, "Sikhism vs Sickism", "Life Beyond Complications" and "Vedanti". She is an EC Council Certified Ethical Hacker, OSCP offensive securities, Certified Security Analyst and Licensed Penetration Tester that caters to her freelance jobs.
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