Published: 11th December 2020
This Varanasi cafe owned by acid attack survivors distributed 14k free food packets to the poor during the lockdown
Owing to the lockdown relaxations, the cafe was reopened in June. Now, to raise funds to run the business, they have started a crowdfunding campaign on Crowdera
On February 14, 2020, when the world was bathed in red, five young women in Varanasi wore orange T-shirts and caps. Their faces were bruised and scarred from the acid that jilted lovers had thrown on them, years ago. But this time, they were set to face the world again. So with the help of the Red Brigade Trust, the Care Today Fund and ActionAid Association, they opened the Orange Cafe.
"The entire idea here was to not just treat these survivors are mere employees but to transfer the ownership to them. This cafe is solely theirs," says Ajay Patel, Founder, Red Brigade Trust, an organisation that empowers women through self-defense education. "A lot of them had their compensation pending and we had to figure out a way to help them sustain on their own," he says. The cafe is named after UNESCO's 'Orange the World' campaign, against violence against women.
In 2014, Alok Dixit of Stop Acid Attack, a Delhi-based NGO had started Sheroes Hangout, a cafe that exclusively employed acid attack survivors, in Agra. Later, they opened its branches in Lucknow, Delhi and Udaipur. Similarly, Writer's Cafe in Chennai also employs burn survivors. However, Patel says that unlike the other cafes, the survivors are not employees, but the owners here.
All was well. They were happy with the new life. "It seemed like we were getting it all back," says a 20-year-old Sangeeta, on whom acid was thrown two years back. But that bliss was short-lived.
On March 25, when the entire country went into lockdown, this cafe was also shut for customers. "However, we turned our kitchen into a community kitchen and made food for the needy," says Sangeeta. This, she says, was despite the losses they incurred. The cafe served free meals, with the help April-July, after mobilising funds from a few philanthropists and the people in the locality.
Owing to the lockdown relaxations, the cafe was reopened in June. However, the road back to normalcy has been a rocky one, says Patel and Sangeeta. The business in this cafe that serves both Indian and Chinese food has come down by almost 80 per cent, owing to COVID. Now, to raise funds to run the business, they have started a crowdfunding campaign on Crowdera. "The losses have been quite bad and restarting the cafe wasn't easy," says Patel, who adds that the survivors have until now distributed over 14,000 free food packets. "But now we're struggling to run the cafe and continue distributing these food packets," he says.