Laxmi is an acid attack survivor. Assailed when she was 15, Laxmi’s PIL in the Supreme Court led to a directive for regulation of acid sales and greater compensation for survivors. Today, the 24-year-old, awarded the International Women of Courage felicitation from US first lady Michelle Obama, is an activist with the Stop Acid Attacks campaign. Laxmi discusses social changes around survivors, how hurtful remarks are decreasing — and what independence means to her with TOI’s Kim Arora.
What progress has occurred since the Supreme Court directive on regulating acid sales?
There’s practically no improvement — even when the court mandated one can’t sell acid without a licence, there’s very little regulation on this. We started a campaign where volunteers secretly filmed buying acid. They got it easily.
But awareness has increased. There are fewer problems for survivors in getting jobs. Last year, two women got government jobs, albeit after a struggle.
Earlier, one heard nasty comments from people — but things have changed. Now people respect us — some even want to get pictures clicked with us.
Women have begun to speak out — and speaking up changes things. Today, acid attack survivors are getting married or are in relationships. I’m in a relationship too — everyone knows about it! I’m happy Alok Dixit, founder of Stop Acid Attacks campaign, recognised me for who i am rather than my face.
Did you endure hurtful remarks?
Yes, almost whenever I’d go out. It would be common for someone to point at me and laugh.
I’d cross people on the street who’d say, ‘She looks smart from behind — but like a monster from the front.’
When I applied for jobs, I was turned away. I was told my face would scare clients.
A spurned stalker atta-cked you — what happened?
Well, he attacked at 10.30 in the morning with a big crowd around. No one came forward to help. I kept asking for my father. I even rammed into a couple of cars.
Then someone realised what was happening and poured water on me. One man called the police, took me to hospital and became an eyewitness in the case. I remember my skin melting and dripping off while i was being transported. I had 45% burns. The doctors weren’t hopeful of my surviving.
The police were really helpful though. That evening, the police station was overflowing with suspects rounded up.
Eventually, the police zeroed in on the attacker.
Rejected men often attack women — why do other acid attacks happen?
Women get attacked for not having a male child. One woman had five daughters. Her husband threw acid on her while she was pregnant because she refused a sex determination test.
There are property disputes, domestic spats and rape cases where rapists force the victim to drink acid.
What do interactions with survivors teach?
When i first met such girls, i was shaken to the core — I realised I wasn’t the only one. We draw strength from each other. We spread legal and medical information. Meeting other survivors also makes us angry — that anger helps.
What does independence mean to you?
Well, I celebrated Independence Day in school. We’d sing pat-riotic songs and take pledges — but these should mean something, right? These are not just words.
Women are not treated equally in our country. I feel men and women should have the same kind of freedoms in India to do the same things — freedom to wear their choice of clothes or anything else.
That is independence.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.