Someone threw acid on a lady named Jhuma at Rishra on December 6, 2014, and her case got a mention in the newspapers but that’s about it.
Another story filled me with hope. Acid-attack survivors have opened a cafe at Agra, near the Taj, few days back. It’s a story of triumph.
Living with the trauma of rape or living with a face that has altered beyond recognition because of an acid attack – what is more harrowing? I really don’t know.
I have lived with someone very close to me whose appearance was altered completely. My elder brother’s handsome face actually became unrecognizable after his jaw bone had to be broken and a malignant tumour removed.
I never had the heart to ask him how he felt every time he looked at himself in the mirror because every time I looked at him I felt a stabbing pain in my chest.
He took it in his stride and would venture out often not bothering about the glances his altered appearance solicited. He even joked, “People must be thinking I was in a horrible accident or I was at the war where a bomb exploded in my cheeks.”
Added to that was the effort of eating, chewing, drinking, a pain that he never talked about lest his family felt upset.
But what he could overcome mentally he could not physically. My brother succumbed to cancer but never to his changed appearance, even to the last day.
But for him it happened. No one did it to him. He did not have to live with the reality that most acid attack survivors have to live with. The fact that someone hated them so much that they poured acid on them and scarred them for life.
There are acid attack survivors who have been suffering for as long as 15 years and nothing has changed after 23 operations but they hardly get any media attention. On the Stop Acid Attacks website I was reading the story of a lady who actually said no to further operations because it did little to better her appearance and discomfort.
I have never met an acid attack survivor but photojournalist Anindya Chattopadhyay has.
Delhi-based photographer Anindya Chattopadhyay (employed with Times of India) is an activist at heart. He uses the social media to keep reminding us about what’s happening around us through his photographs and keeps doing it even when the frenzy around an issue has died down.
Here Anindya talks about meeting acid attack survivors on an assignment and how it changed him as a person.
Over to Anindya….
A couple of years back I was assigned to shoot acid-attack victim Chanchal Paswan in Bihar. She was a high school student when four guys poured acid on her when she was asleep with her family on the terrace.
I cried after meeting Chanchal Paswan
I literally cried after meeting her. I was ashamed to represent a society that harbours such heartless men who could do this to a young girl.
We are supposed to be objective in our outlook and treat every assignment as a job. But it was very hard for me not to feel her pain. Or probably I didn’t? I would probably never know what she felt or feels now.
They are about inner strength and beauty
Later I again met her at a seminar attended by several acid attack survivors like her and human rights activists.
This was an inspirational shoot for me. I had interacted with almost all of them for assignments before. So they knew I want to focus on their inner strength and beauty through my lens.
The very definition of womanhood has changed for me
I have a daughter. I couldn’t sleep at night after
meeting Chanchal for the first time. After meeting those survivors I realised what is inner strength and mental power. For me the very definition of womanhood has changed after knowing them. I am grateful to Ritu and Chanchal that they allowed me to pose with them.
It is illegal to stock acid, hope the shopkeepers know that
I refuse to call them victims they are survivors for me. It is important to spread awareness about how
harmful commonly available acid is. Shopkeepers need to be made aware that it is no longer legal to stock these in their stores without a license.
Why can’t we employ an acid-attack survivor?
As for the survivors, one should know that they need to be treated with as much dignity as the next physically fit person. They are sometimes turned away from jobs that require direct client-dealing, as
employers feel it will discourage customers. That needs to change. It is the attackers who should be denied opportunities and be sent away
for reformation, not those who are attacked. Any help has to begin with acceptance. It makes me immensely happy to know Rupa has become a dress designer and Ritu is helping her and Chanchal plans to go back to college. This cafe that they have started is a very positive step and I wish them all the success.
Monetary help is important
Surgeries required by acid attack survivors is very expensive and they need stringent post-operative care. Raising funds for their surgeries can be another way of helping them. Right now, there is no
institutional framework to provide acid attack survivors with psychological counseling and monetary help from the state can only go so far. Rs 3 lakhs given by the government is nothing for the treatments they have to go through.