India has made international headlines for horrific rape cases in recent years, but acid attacks are common, too, although they receive less attention. Laxmi Agarwal India’s best-known acid attack survivor life’s story has now been depicted in the Bollywood movie ‘Chhapaak’ starring Deepika Padukone, who has worn prosthetics to replicate the damage to Agarwal’s skin. Laxmi’s struggle and come back from a life-threatening attack is a message for many such victims that acid attack isn’t end of anyone’s life or dream and one should never give up. The Chhapaak movie is not only about Laxmi but about acid attack survivors’ cause, as each one has her own story of pain and struggles in life. Chhapaak’ is the story of Laxmi who fights society and rises above her battles. Based on real-life incidents, the movie is about the act of violence, which destroys the life of victims, both physically and mentally and takes away their right to life. Today, Laxmi has led the cause of acid attacks on women and has become a role model for other survivors.
She was only 15-years-old when a man had thrown acid on her face in 2005. Laxmi was on her way from her music class when a man who was twice of her age threw acid on her for rejecting his advances. The incident led her face and other body parts disfigured. Although she received treatment on time, in a span of 10 years, she went through many surgeries, which almost affected her mental health. But with her courage and determination, Laxmi took up life’s challenge and managed to stand back on her feet. Laxmi deserves kudos for receiving International Woman of Courage award from Michelle Obama, US in 2014. She is the first lady to have named NDTV Indian of the Year. She also has founded an NGO, Chhanv Foundation, which aims to help the survivors of acid attacks.
Acid attack is not something unheard of in India. Acid is still sold openly in some parts of India, and it is easily available to the offenders and the victims like Laxmi Agarwal are to fight the assaults. There are 250 to 300 acid attacks reported in India every year, despite laws restricting the sale of acid or other deadly chemicals, according to Stop Acid Attacks, a non-profit group. It has shocked the conscience 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.
Because acid attack is possibly the worst infliction on another human – leading to complete debilitation, loss of income and opportunity, and even social sequestration- and it can happen to anyone, at any time. The means to this evil remain quite accessible to most and the causes provoking such malice can be unimaginably trivial. Acid attacks destroy a family completely, and the victim has to undergo at least 80 reconstruction operations.
The rising number of acid attack cases clearly shows India’s inability to grapple with this heinous crime. Cases continue unabated in various parts of the country, showing the pan-Indian character of this form of assault. India has the highest number of acid attacks in the world, but the worst conviction rates. Women have had acid thrown at them for not bringing enough dowry, for bearing a female child and for not cooking a good enough meal. One thing is clear that acid attacks will continue if the country does not treat the attackers more harshly and the victims more generously.
(The views expressed by the author in the article are his/her own.)