When Laxmi shows her old pictures she gets very emotional. Her eyes moistening, she likes to go back to them again and again. One of her favorite snaps shows her wearing a sari and posing for the camera. The photo album that she has preserved on her laptop is the only connection the twenty-three-year-old girl has with her old life.
Laxmi’s life changed forever at the prime of her adolescence when she became a victim of an acid attack by a man who took revenge on her for declining his marriage proposal. He and a female accomplice poured a glass of acid on Laxmi’s face in broad daylight in the heart of Delhi, inflicting permanent damage to the face of a bubbly young girl.
The incident devastated the whole family. Her father could not bear to see the trauma of his daughter and died heartbroken and penniless. Meanwhile, her brother has been bedridden due to an ailment in his lungs, and relatives have abandoned the family and maintained their distance. The mother, a housewife, is unable to mend family relations.
“See what has happened to me. It feels as if I have been murdered,” Laxmi, who has become a prominent voice for acid attack victims, told The Diplomat. “Administration and the government might take it lightly, but if you look within me and many other acid victims we are living the life of a corpse. We have been a given a big death. With me, my family is also dying.”
Not one to take things lying down, Laxmi approached the Supreme Court to ban the indiscriminate sale of acid in the market so that no woman in the future becomes a victim of this deadly chemical.
It is because of her petition that the Apex Court recently delivered a landmark order regulating the sale of acid at retail outlets across the country. Only licensed retail shops can sell acid and non-compliance would amount to fines and possible imprisonment. For the first time, a provision for compensation has been made for acid attack victims. According to the court’s ruling, the government must pay a compensation of three lakh rupees (around $5500) to victims.
For Laxmi, who dreamed of becoming a singer, the court’s order is “a welcome development but too little and too late,” she said. “The amount of compensation fixed is too not enough to treat a patient who needs thousands of dollars to undergo a painful plastic surgery.”
The Wall Street Journal writes: “About 1,500 acid attacks are reported worldwide every year, according to U.K.-based charity Acid Survivors Trust International. India has no official data, but New Delhi-based group Stop Acid Attacks says around three cases are reported nationwide every week.”
Just a few days after the court’s order, Gaziabad, a suburban city sharing a border with Delhi, witnessed an acid attack on a 22-year-old woman who rejected a marriage proposal.
This underscores a point that more than administrative action is needed. Ultimately, deeply entrenched attitudes towards women in the nation’s male-dominated society must shift.
“There should be a change in the mindset. This has to start from home,” Laxmi said. “The discrimination between boys and girls that starts at home should not happen. This discrimination is at the heart of an oversized male ego.”
She also underlined “the need for stricter punishment for those who commit the crime.”
Last year after the Delhi gang rape case the government brought about some far reaching changes in law, including a provision for 10-year prison sentences for culprits of acid attacks.
Meanwhile, a campaign called Stop Acid Attack has been launched recently to act as “a bridge between survivors and the society, as most of the victims of this brutal crime, which is much more grave in its impact than a rape, have isolated themselves after losing their face. Due to ignorance of the government and civil society, most survivors find no hope and stay like an outcast, in solitude.”
Laxmi now actively works for this campaign and uses the small remuneration she receives to run her family and take care of her ailing younger brother. Association with this campaign has given her a new lease of life.
During her free time she practices music and sings, holding on to a dream she has not lost despite the tragedy in her life.