An effort to bring acid attack victims to mainstream

An effort to bring acid attack victims to mainstream

In her mid-30s, Neetu, a resident of Agra in Uttar Pradesh, does not want to recall the horror that had visited her when she was only three. Neetu’s father had thrown acid on her, her mother and an infant while they were sleeping. The father was angry after the birth of another female child.

While the infant had died, Neetu and her mother had suffered serious injuries. “People look the other way when they see me on the road,” Neetu says with hurt in her eyes.

Her self-confidence takes a beating. Thanks to an initiative of a voluntary organisation, women like Neetu will soon find themselves dealing with people like any other normal women at hangouts. It will be a hangout like any other place, of course, with a slight
difference. It will be operated by girls, who have displayed “heroic” qualities in their attempt to fight social injustice and trauma.

Victims, who have been living life confined to their homes, will be taking care of the cafes. The objective is to bring the victims to the mainstream and get them involved in public dealing so that they regain their self-confidence and at the same time become self-dependent.

As many as four acid attack victims in Agra will soon be seen running cafes. “We are currently looking for an ideal place where the cafe can be opened,” says cartoonist Aseem Trivedi, whose organisation “Chhanv” has taken the initiative. “The cafes will be opened at places which are easily accessible to the tourists and other people,” he said.

Speaking to Deccan Herald, Trivedi said that the immediate objective behind
sett­ing up the cafes was to provide “sustena­nce” and “shelter” to the acid
attack survivors. “We have identified four acid attack survivors in Agra and have
decided to rope them in for running the cafes,” he said.

The cafes will be known as “Shero’s hangout”, Trivedi remarked. “They (acid attack survivors) too are heroes. They have displayed qualities that make them different. They are courageous,” he says. He hopes to start the cafes within a month. “Once they get jobs, they will start earning and hence will be self dependent. It will not only boost their self-confidence but also help them overcome their trauma,” Trivedi adds.

Trivedi plans to develop the cafes as “feminist centres”. “We want them to turn into places where people could be made aware of women issues, their empowerment and other similar things,” he points out. The cafes will also have arrangements for having a library and organise talk shows on women related issues.

Trivedi rues that despite all the efforts, society has still not allowed the acid attack victims to join the mainstre­am. “The survivors are helpless. There is no one to look after them,” he says.

Trivedi cites the example of Neetu and her mother. “Their story reflects the tragedy that a society becomes in the absence of compassion for the weak and the suffering. It reflects that women do not get support from their own families when they are abused in a domestic set-up.

Moreover the mother and Neetu continue to live with the same man, without having received any medical or legal help form any one,” he points out.

They survive doing odd seasonal jobs, like making cardboard boxes, during
festivals. Neetu’s mother narrates how they have survived for two decades with occasional help from people who provided them odd jobs. She, otherwise, finds work as a domestic help in the nearby houses to earn a living.

Neetu is now very happy. The thought of running a cafe enthuses her and other acid attack victims. Trivedi’s organisation also plans to set up a community radio. “It will help us in creating awareness among the people as we will be able to reach greater number of people. We will soon apply for a licence for community radio. We plan to air programmes based on women-related themes,” he said.

The plan to rehabilitate the acid attack survivors by opening cafes will be launched from Agra but in future it will be extended to other cities as well. “We will be launching similar cafes in Delhi in the days to come,” Trivedi says.

The acid attack survivors do need sympathy in society. They need respect, which they amply deserve, he says. “We can show our support to them by just being normal with them. They should not feel that they are no longer human beings. Our neglect will only compound their agony,” Trivedi remarks.

“At Chhanv, the survivors get a place to share joys, sing, dance and joke,
without revisiting their pain and anguish. We organise training, workshops, counse­lling and many other programmes to support and facilitate the survivors. These endeavours boost their self-confidence, power their self esteem and sets them on a path to self reliance,” he says.

The coffee at these hangouts will have a different taste. The customers will not only get to sip good coffee but will also serve a great social cause.

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