Acid Attack is a form of violent assault. It involves the act of throwing acid or similarly corrosive liquid onto the body of others intending to disfigure, maim, torture, or kill. Perpetrators throw these liquids at their victims, usually on the face, burning them and damaging their skin tissue. Long term consequences of acid attack include blindness, eye burns with severe permanent scarring of the face and body. The severity of the damage depends on the concentration of the acid. The damages include:
- Ear cartilage is usually partly or destroyed, leading to deafness.
- Skull gets partially deformed along with hair loss.
- Eyelids may be burned off or deformed, leaving eyes extremely dry and prone to blindness.
- The nose can become shrunken and deformed; the nostrils may close off completely due to destroyed cartilage.
- The mouth becomes shrunken and narrow, and it may lose its full range of motion. Sometimes, the lips may be partly or destroyed, exposing the teeth. Eating and speaking can become difficult.
- Scars can run down from the chin to the neck area, shrinking the chin and extremely limiting the range of motion in the neck.
- Inhalation of acid vapours usually creates respiratory problems, exacerbated restricted airway pathways (the esophagus and nostrils) in acid patients.
Acid attack survivors face a lot of mental health issues during recovery. Their self-esteem lowers. They start getting self-conscious. They tend to put themselves into a shell due to one’s concern for their appearance. They face psychological distress and depression also. Acid survivors certainly become ostracized from society if they become physically handicapped and their appearance.
Lakshmi Agarwal was a victim of an acid attack when she was 15 years old. She was attacked by her acquaintances named Rakhi and Guddu. The attack was to seek revenge from Laxmi as she refused to get married to Guddu.
People taunted her, called her names, and even speak ill about her and her family. They questioned her upbringing and faulted Laxmi for the attack. Her family supported her throughout that gave her the courage to fight multiple surgeries. She was aware of the physical deformities caused by the acid attack but she was not prepared for the face that looked back in the mirror after 100 days of the incident. She was traumatized that she considered suicide as the way out. She thought about her family and decided to end such negative thoughts. Instead, she chose to trust her parents, who encouraged her to seek counselling. During all of this, she decided to take her case to the court. The trial went on for 4 long years. The result was, Guddu was sentenced to 10 years in jail, and Rakhi was imprisoned for 7 years.
Before all this, Laxmi was under the mental and physical trauma of the attack. For months she was not able to wear any clothes and would stay under a blanket. Managing the menstrual hygiene was likewise misery for Laxmi to bear. Laxmi’s surgeries had cost Rs. 20 lakh. All the savings of her father was utilized in the surgeries. His employer at that time helped the family bear the cost financially.
Laxmi refused to be enslaved. Slowly, she gained back her self-esteem and confidence. She started her diploma in vocational training at the National Institute of Open Schooling, Delhi. In 2009, with the support of her teachers and the institution, Laxmi completed her diploma.
In 2013, Laxmi became a part of the acid attack movement. After a month, Alok Dixit and Ashish Shukla started the ‘Stop Acid Attacks‘ campaign, their efforts surpassed in the Chhanv Foundation in 2014. They campaigned aggressively and started to spread awareness about the acid attack in and around the country. Further, through the foundation, Laxmi connected to thousands of victims and began to assist them with treatment, legal aid, and rehabilitation. The patients were kept in Delhi facility, where their counselling and treatment was done. They prepared them for rehabilitation.
Through her cafe, SHEROES, in Fatehabad Road of Agra, she began to employ acid attack victims and provided livelihood opportunities for them. Through her foundation, she hopes to spread awareness about acid attack survivors and educate society about the need to respect everybody, understand their consent, and fight for their rights.
The Supreme Court, in July 2013, passed orders that led to the regulation of the sale of acid, compensation for the victims, after-care, and rehabilitation of the survivors, limited compensation from the government, reservation in educational institutions, and easier access to jobs. This was done following the writ petition by Laxmi in 2006.
Despite the legal framework, the survivors didn’t get jobs, faced social stigma, and meeting the costs of surgery was a big challenge.
Through her foundation, Laxmi counsels the patients about the right procedures to follow in case of attacks and even encourages the public to donate skin.
Now she is living her life with her beautiful daughter named Pihu.
Laxmi fought against social norms. She fought bravely through the days and she survived the attack beautifully. She inspired many other acid attack victims to overcome the assault.
All the victims and survivors of acid attacks inspire the whole world.
“He changed my face, not my heart. He threw acid on my face, not on my dreams.”- Laxmi Agarwal