Since a long-time India has deal with gender-based violence. Every 16 minutes, a women is raped while a domestic violence case is reported every 4.4 minutes. Acid attack is not something unheard in India and is the most effective weapon of war against women. Acid Survivors Foundation, India (ASFI) has collected data from newspaper reports that indicate a clear growth in the number of cases. In 2010 there were 80 victims, in 2011 and 2012 there were 106 victims, in 2013 there were 122 victims and in 2014 there were 130 victims until November. “The Stop Acid Attacks campaign” claims there have been 386 cases in the period of 2013 to 2014.
Power Story of Unwavering Courage of Acid Attack Survivors who Choose not to be The Victims
In 2013 the law against acid attack was reformed. According to the law attacking someone with acid is considered as a separate offense and can be punished for 10 years in prison. Acid is banned over-the-counter sales and there is a mandatory free treatment for the victims of attacks.
The victims of acid attacks are already under severe torment and the society’s reaction further stirs the pain. The victims succumb to the societal pressure for they fear those stares full of disgust and for the discrimination they would face.
But there are some survivors who set an example for our society and we should learn a lesson from them on how to fight back despite all odds. The café “Sheroes Hangout” has made a big difference by empowering victims of acid attack. This café is located in the Indian city of Agra, near to the Taj Mahal.
Sheroes Hangout is the world first café run by female acid attack survivors. It looks like any other average café located near Taj Mahal. It serves chai ( tea) and French fries and provides free Wi-Fi to attracts visitors from different places.
This café attracts 80 customers on an average day but mostly tourists. According to the manager of Sheroes Hangout, Atul Kumar, “The first initiative of this café is to reintegrate survivors back into mainstream Indian society”. In 2015, it first opened its doors, the café is the invention of the Stop Acid Attacks campaign and an NGO “Chhanv Foundation” who demanded to eliminate acid violence in India since 2013.
This café aims to instill confidence and encourage the survivors of heinous acid attacks. When these women were brought into the mainstream, they initially met with opposition and the response was certainly not positive.
Sheroes started this café with five women. They assigned different role to the survivors, thereby giving them a chance to interact with guests so as to boost up their confidence.
An aspiring chef, 24 years old Neetu who was left blind after her own father threw acid on her, offers coffee alongside her mother and friend survivor Geetu. Dolly who was attacked as a 12 year old after refusing the advances of a 25 years old man occasionally manages the library. 24 year old Rupa who nearly died from her injuries after her stepmother flung acid on her, designs dresses on display at the café, while Ritu, 20 year old manages accounts.
Now this café is renovated and has added some more things like library, art gallery and even an activism center. Sheroes has been successful in rebuilding women’s confidence. Sheroes symbolizes power. Now they are carefree as they pose for selfies and interact with people confidently. As Dolly says,“You burnt my face but not my will to live. You can’t throw acid on that.”
Rupa’s talent lies in fashion designing and she further wants to pursue her career in this domain. Her designed clothes are available at this café.
Ritu says, “We have been able to move on from the anger and hurt because outer beauty is momentary. We feel being beautiful inside is more important that lasts a life-long-time”.
Acid attack is one of the most heinous crimes prevalent in the society. These survivors and their powerful determination to live as equal in the society proves that at the end it’s the inner courage and the rebellion to never give up that keeps you going. Something as temporary as looks will eventually fade away but the inner soul, well, that should be beautiful that will stay.