Indian woman speaks for the rights of acid attack victims
Laxmi Agarwal from New Delhi, India, was just 15 years old when her life took a gruesome turn. A 32-year-old man, the brother of a school friend, wanted to marry her. After Laxmi refused him, the man threw acid in her face. Today, the 26-year-old still remembers it vividly: "It felt cold first. Then I felt an intense burning. Then the liquid melted my skin." It's only because she instinctively threw her arms in front of her face that she managed to save her eyesight.
The teenager spent 10 weeks in the hospital where she endured painful skin-grafting surgeries. But while her scars slowly healed, the reaction she received from the outside world caused her more pain: "My own family didn't want to see me any more, even my friends," she remembers. "I stayed at home for eight years and only trusted myself to go out if I was completely covered. And the perpetrator received a one month caution and then was completely free again. I looked for a job but nobody wanted to have me. They said: 'People would get scared when they see you.'"
Over time, Laxmi got to know other acid attack victims. Such attacks occur often in India, mostly in the form of revenge acts from men or disputes over the suggested dowry. Around 1000 cases are registered every year, but the actual figure is much higher, because many of the victims won't report the attacker out of fear or shame. Laxmi has stepped in for these victims: she fights as an activist against the free sale of acid and for harder punishment for acid attackers.
Laxmi's voice is being heard. Now she is even the face of the indian fashion label Viva N Diva's new collection. "It is a message for the community that life for women after an acid attack mustn't be over," said Laxmi. "One can always have the courage to go out and make a new name for themselves."
Thankfully, Nahim Khan, the man who inflicted this pain on the young Indian woman, was later sentenced to seven years in prison. And Laxmi found the love of her life in Alok Dixit, the founder of the campaign Stop Acid Attacks. Together they have a little daughter named Pihu. "Just like everyone loves, I found love in Laxmi," the young man said. "Yes, she is the victim of an acid attack, and you can see that, but they doesn't play a part in our relationship. I immediately appreciated her courage and the fact that she is no longer hiding behind four walls." Side by side, the pair fights against the social exclusion of those affected.
Laxmi is not only the face of a fashion line, but also the voice for many people. "A beautiful face is not the most important thing in life, even when we are brought up to believe it," said the young mother. "Look at me, an acid victim, who fought her way back and changed this way of thinking - that is the worst punishment that any perpetrator could imagine." What an inspiring woman!