Published: 08th March 2017
Real Sheroes: This fashion designer who survived an acid attack just won the President's Medal
Acid attack survivor and fashion designer Rupa is thrilled at being recognised with the President's Nari Shakti Puraskaar on Women's Day. This is her incredible story..
Rupa's voice is as rushed as it is ecstatic. She had just been inside Rashtrapati Bhavan, after all to be awarded the President's Nari Shakti Puraskaar, on behalf of her NGO Chhanv Foundation — which runs the Sheroes Hangout cafe, where all the staff are acid attack survivors. "I feel very happy that the government is supporting the campaign," says Rupa who was just about to have dinner with President Pranab Mukherjee."It felt so good to meet the President. He congratulated me," she says. It's almost poetic that it's Women's Day.
By the way, Rupa isn't the kind of person people clamour around for a photo op. It kind of comes with the territory when someone has flung acid on your face, distorting your features for life.
Then again, Rupa is no longer ashamed of her face. She wears her scars with a bold smile. There is a reason that makes the smile brighter. The 22-year-old is a fashion designer who is also preparing to open a portal to showcase and sell her designs.
Novel dreams: Rupa working on her designs
Life wasn’t fair to her early on. When her mother died while she was two, her father married again. Rupa says that her stepmother was very jealous and treated her contemptuously. “I always wanted to wear good clothes. But my stepmother never let me do so. She’d always give me old ragged clothes to wear. I always dreamt of making good clothes and wearing them,” she says.
Sort of like a Cinderella story. Albeit, a very violent one.
Her stepmother was the one who threw acid on Rupa when she was 15. “I don’t know what provoked her to do this,” says Rupa. “I got to know something bad about her. Maybe she wanted me to keep quiet about this, so she poured acid on my face while I was asleep,” she says.
That one night changed Rupa’s life. She was helpless for around 6 hours. Her father wasn’t ready to support her. It was her uncle and aunt who helped her lodge a complaint against the stepmother which put her behind bars for a year and a half. “My father refused to talk to me after this. My stepmother was released and now stays with my father. I’m not in touch with them anymore,” she says. She moved in with her uncle’s family later.
The acid attack shook her both physically and mentally. Her face was covered with scars. “I’d stay indoors all the time, with my face covered with a shawl. I thought of committing suicide many times,” she says. She remembers how people used to show her a lot of sympathy initially.
I saw myself in the mirror three years after the attack. I used to be angry at the world. I’d cry all the time and think of myself as a burden for everyone. I was scared of my own face
Rupa, Acid attack survivor
The Chhanv foundation brought her hopes back to life. “I came to know about it from a friend of mine, who is an acid attack survivor herself. I started attending their meetings and I felt good about myself,” she says. That was when Rupa’s designing dreams started blooming again. She started gaining confidence and got rid of the shawl with which she once covered her face. “I told Alok (Alok Dixit, founder of Chhanv foundation and stop acid attack campaign) that I wanted to learn to stitch and sew clothes. He helped a lot,” Rupa says. She then began exhibiting her designs at Chhanv.
Later, she became a part of the team of acid attack survivors who started the ‘Sheroes hangout’ café at Agra. She opened a boutique of her own designs inside the café. But now that she travels back and forth from Agra to the new branch of the café at Lucknow, she is unable to sell her designs. “By starting an online portal for my designs, I can travel anywhere and sell my designs easily,” she says. She sounds quite hopeful about it.
Rupa had already shot to fame when she staged a fashion show with her designs, where all the models were acid attack survivors. “I’ve seen the confidence and happiness on my models’ faces after the cheering they got from the audience. I’d like more of them to come forward,” she says.
How's that for a spirited comeback?