When we see an innocent person’s face with a dreadful tragedy, the first emotion it fills us with is fear, because the world suddenly seems a lot less safe than it used to be. The second emotion is of course sympathy for the person, and the uncomfortable question, “What did he/she do to deserve this?”
How it all happened?
The story of an acid attack survivor Laxmi Agarwal is one such story. Laxmi was aged 15 when she was attacked by a stalker twice her age, along with his two companions. She was returning from music class at that time. Laxmi’s ‘crime’ was that she rejected his immoral advances. The attack disfigured her face and body parts, and she was admitted to Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital for three months.
The ward where she was admitted had no mirrors, and she was shocked and depressed when she saw her face after the first surgery. Laxmi had to undergo many surgeries over 10 years, which also took a toll on her mental health.
However, Laxmi Agarwal’s true inner beauty shone through it all. She ensured that the culprits of this heinous act was put behind bars.
After that she laid the foundations of an even larger crusade. Laxmi got 27,000 signatures on a petition and also requested for a total ban on sale of acid due to increasing numbers of attacks. She also submitted a PIL that sought to change the current law or draft a new one on such offences along with framing the rules on compensation for survivors. In 2013, the Supreme Court gave its verdict in her favour and put additional restrictions on the sale of acid. The court also instructed state governments to give compensation of Rs 3 lakh for acid attack victims.
Laxmi Agarwal also went on a hunger strike with other acid survivors, demanding swift justice and rehabilitation for survivors. She set up an NGO named Chhanv Foundation to help these survivors. In 2014, then US First Lady Michelle Obama felicitated her with the International Woman of Courage award.
The struggle was not over though…
She fell in love and entered into a live-in relationship with journalist Alok Dixit, who was the founder of the Stop Acid Attack Campaign. She gave birth to a daughter Pihu in 2015.
Unfortunately, the couple separated soon after due to personal differences. She took custody of her child, but ran into severe financial problems. Salaries from the non-profits stopped coming once she left them after the break-up. No one was ready to give her a job, or even offer her flat. Society was ready to offer sympathy and praise, but not practical assistance.
Ray of hope
When news of her financial difficulties got out, help started coming from different quarters, including Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar, who immediately transferred Rs 5 lakh into her bank account. She also got job offers from a hair and makeup academy, a jewellery designer and the president of Rotary Club of New Delhi.
Her story is also set to be immortalised on celluloid, as leading Bollywood actress Deepika Padukone is playing the role of Laxmi Agarwal in Meghna Gulzar’s next movie Chhapaak (splash). The movie was signed in 2016.
Laxmi Agarwal has scripted a rare and inspirational story of unbridled courage in the face of senseless tragedy. Instead of falling prey to it, she decided to help other victims get justice and move forward in life, while endeavouring to protect many more from a similar fate. If her story does not epitomize the true essence of beauty, perhaps nothing else does.