Published: 26th September 2018
Have we matured as a society to accept acid attack survivors? Laxmi Agarwal's case says no
Acid Attack survivor Laxmi Agarwal is now homeless and unemployed. As she is striving to meet two ends meet, we explore a few biases of the society
Laxmi Agarwal is no stranger to any news following Indian active on social media. A jilted lover threw acid on her face 13 years ago, scarring and disfiguring her face and body and majorly affecting her eyesight. But Laxmi was a survivor — she hates the term victim. She fought against all odds not shying away from putting herself out there, expressing herself, rehabilitating others who survived something similar. Over the years she has transformed as the face of acid attack survivors in India.
No one spared a chance to interview her, make her walk the ramps or appoint her as an ambassador for their brands. But a few days ago, the world was shocked to see a Facebook live video, in which an otherwise happy Laxmi was almost on the verge of breaking down, saying that she was going through a hard phase of her life. Unemployed for almost a year now, she is struggling to make both ends meet and she has to provide to her mother and her four-year-old daughter Pihu.
"I'm being shooed away saying that people will get scared seeing my face," says a distraught Laxmi. "People assume that life is a bed of roses for me now. But in reality, it isn't. I've walked a lot of ramps and appeared in a lot of campaigns. But all that was just for namesake," says Laxmi, who had previously co-founded an NGO named Chhanv Foundation to rehabilitate other acid attack survivors.
Earlier this year, she was appointed as the brand ambassador of jewelry brand NIMAI. But Laxmi says that she wasn't paid for a long time now. She also alleges that her situation was mocked by a lot of people in the pretense of offering her a job. "Today, I'd like to thank all those people for letting me know what the reality is," she says. "The truth is ugly. No one wants to see a burnt face every day," she adds, poignantly.
Ever since her video went viral, Laxmi's been receiving massive support through social media. A fundraiser was started to support her. Akshay Kumar too had offered a hand to help her out.
But all this took me back to a chat I had with Laxmi a year ago. She was quite sanguine about the change in the society then. "People would cringe on seeing us before. We wouldn’t get jobs and no one would invite us to weddings and parties. It might sound silly, but you have no idea how much it hurt us. But things are changing now," she had told me. At that time, she was campaigning for a few other survivors for their eye surgery. But in reality, Laxmi herself hasn't gotten her burns and eyes treated fully, owing to financial issues.
This again takes us back to the question if you and I are ready to see an acid attack survivor every day and not look at their face twice, curiously, because it doesn't look like a usual one? Laxmi says that most of the offers that she receives are out of sympathy or for the sake of publicity. I couldn't disagree. Were you curious when you couldn't look at the survivor in the eye but managed to have a look at her scar good enough to remember the number of wrinkles and the shades of brown there? Were you curious when you desperately wanted to know if the survivor in your office was really qualified?
You might say, yes. But were you? I would want to make my views clear through a short film 'Auntiji'. It stars Shabana Azmi and acid attack survivor Anmol Rodriguez. The pain, dilemma and discrimination Anmol's Geetika goes through are very real and Anmol herself had been through similar situations in her life.
You can watch the film here:
Now let me know your thoughts. Were we curious? Were we empathetic? And finally, are we ready to have an acid attack survivor work with us?
To support Laxmi, go to this link: https://www.ketto.org/fundraiser/laxmi
(Opinions expressed here are the author's own)