The Women Who Found Their Lives Through Acid Attacks | Sheroes for Feministaa

By Staff Feministaa in Starting Up 09/07/2019

We are sitting in a cafe, beside the mighty Taj Mahal, with a cosy setting of walls filled with graphics. Our table’s location is right against the books and all around is graffiti adorning the cafe in shades of red, orange, green and black.

 

The 6-7 tables present in the cafe are occasionally filled up by foreigners and locals enjoying a cold beverage to escape the dry May heat.

 

From the bookshelves, the colors of the walls to the servers; every inch about Sheroes Cafe is special. Sheroes Cafe was started in 2014, by Chanv Foundation to create a space for Acid Attack Survivors to work. Yet this place is beyond just a workplace. It is a safe space for Acid Attack Survivors that breeds confidence, independence and a family connecting Acid Attack Survivors to find a respectable life for themselves.

 

Above the bookshelves are a line of brown and black frames, through which the acid attack survivors greet you with smiling faces along with their short descriptions and dreams.  “I dream to be a singer”, “Dolly wants to become a doctor” etc.

 

The TV is constantly beaming with the faces of Sheroes’ women where they are telling their spine-chilling stories of surviving acid attacks and reviving themselves through their work. The faces that are quickly changing in the TV are the women who are currently doing the rounds at the table, bringing hot meals to people. The music accompanying the documentary has set an inspirational mood throughout the place. And people can’t help but be glued to the screen to know more about the person who’s serving them.

 

Roopa, who has been connected with Sheroes from the start tells us the story of how this cafe came to be. “Initially we started Sheroes in 2014 for a test trial for two months because none of us knew how to run a cafe. We didn’t even know whether we’d be able to run it or not. It took us 1-1.5 years to run this cafe properly because people used to get scared away by our faces.”

 

Roopa Sheroes Hangout Cafe

Roopa

 

Now, Sheroes has attracted tourists from all over the world because of the uniqueness of the workers and the fact that it works on ‘Pay As You Want’ business model. And the constant hustle and bustle of visitors, reinforce our point further.

 

As we get to know these women a little more, we realise that all of them share a common narrative in terms of the dark place that Acid Attack had them put them through in the initial phases of their lives. The attacks for these women happened from the age of 14, 17 and sometimes even 30. What followed were months of depression wherein they battled with many evils from inside as well as outside the society.

 

As Rukaiya, a fellow worker who was attacked at the age of 14 tells us, “It felt like it was me who committed the crime and not the attacker.”

 

Rukaiya, Sheroes Cafe Hangout

Rukaiya

 

Mirrors were often removed from their homes, they stopped going out and meeting people altogether, they covered their bodies fully and hesitated to be open to anyone about their feelings.

 

Getting Over the Past Without The Feeling of Revenge

 

After this complete ostracization what usually followed was the feeling of depression and loneliness which was often compensated with a strategy to take revenge.

 

Rukaiya tells us how even after she had remarried, the anger to take revenge was constant. She wanted to do what the attacker had done to her. “Day and night, I used to think that by hook or by crook if I get him, then I will do the same to him. Later as I grew and matured up, I realised that if do this then there won’t be a difference between him and me. He lives a life of shame and now, I had to show him how I can live my life.”


Shabnam, another survivor, tells us her story of why she never pressed charges on her attacker. Adorning a beautiful green dupatta, she explains the reason behind why the attackers do these attacks.

 

“The attackers that we won’t be able to marry again, or go out and work, or have a respectable life.”

 

Bala Sheroes Cafe Hangout

 



Similarly, Bala echoes a similar feeling that she went through when the attack happened on her, “I thought that a woman’s everything is her face and her beauty and when this happened I thought I lost everything.”

 

The attackers often attacked with the malicious intentions of patronizing these women such that they gave up hopes of marriage, or leading a normal life

 

As Shabnam starts narrating of how her life turned around despite the attacker’s intentions, she is so full of energy and conviction that it’s hard to believe that she has barely eaten due to her roza. “What these attackers forget, that if they attack us we won’t be able to fight back and lose. I was asked to file a case against him and I said No because if he stays in Jail, then he’ll get his meals on time but if he stays outside, he’ll see how much power I have. I am still living the same way I was, he thought I wouldn’t get married, and here I am, he thought I would never have a child and I have a child. Today, I have achieved whatever I wanted. I never wanted to slap him and show him this but just my presence and my achievements is enough for me to take my revenge. Whatever we were, we are as beautiful yesterday as we were before”

 

Shabnam Sheroes Cafe Hangout

Shabnam

 

Even though unfortunate circumstances brought these women together, but after various documentaries, and an immensely drastic exposure to the outer world through Sheroes; it left them anything but thankful for their pasts that lead them here.

 

As Shabnam further explains it beautifully, “My attacker thought that I would die or try to kill myself after the attack. But he thought wrong. Had he not done this, I would not have been in front of you, talking to you, would have married in a small family and lived my life there. He’s made my life more beautiful.”

 

 

Finding a Safe Space Through Sheroes

 

 

“I thought I was the only one going through this.” This was the common belief of the women before they had come to Sheroes.

 

It is hard to talk about Acid Attacks without talking about Laxmi Agarwal. Once we got to know the stories of these women, it became clear that a lot these women found these platform through the widespread awareness led by Laxmi and Alok, the co-founder of Sheroes.

Once the ball started rolling, acid attacks survivors reached out to each other to get them here and work.

As Geeta, who’s the oldest among them all, starts narrating her story, she tells us how the other girls call her Ma. Her eyes glow and her smile is widened as she explains gleefully about how her daughter, Neetu, also an acid attack survivor, is in Australia since the past four years, working for the much-talked-about Deepika Padukone’s documentary on their lives. She tells us that she’s going to go herself in August as well.

 

Geeta Sheroes Hangout Cafe

Geeta

 

It was back in 2012 that Laxmi started calling Neetu, asking her to leave Agra and come to Delhi. “We had never been to Delhi and my daughter was blind. But somehow, we made up our minds and went, and met the founders; Laxmi and Alok.”

 

Alok asked us what we do, and how we earned a living to sustain. I used to do housework to earn a living and he asked us if we wanted to join here where they will cater for our food and our stay. I never wanted to leave Agra, but after a while in 2014, Sheroes happened.

 

“Here we uplift each other. My daughter sat on a flight and went to another land. All the girls are getting opportunities here and the people here have helped build each other’s life. What could be better than that?”

 

 

A lot of these women’s lives changed drastically after they came here. As Bala says, “When I used to cover my face nobody supported me and I was caught up in petty things. When I left home and started working and earning for myself, going out and meeting people, I realised that things had automatically started changing.”

 

 

They moved away from the four walls of their homes and started working here full time, and with the exposure, their confidence slowly started coming back.

 

As Roopa says,  “I met everyone here who was suffering through this, found like-minded people and they took me in and slowly I started changing. I used to cover my face, I stopped that. I was hesitant in talking about the incident and used to fear what will people think and now I can talk openly about it and not fear judgements.”

 

Roopa Sheroes Hangout

 

A Better Way to Live

 

Sheroes became a platform for these women nurturing them not back to their old lives; but giving them a chance to live an empowered one. Every definition that goes with empowered women from self-independent; working; confident; and authentic, were reflected in every inch of their demeanour.

 

Khusboo with her daughter at Sheroes Cafe Hangout

Khusboo with her daughter

 

As Roopa explains, “We never thought we would do a job, come in the morning and leave in the evening. Our lives took a beautiful turn of events.”

 

 

They changed the narrative of the way the world looked at them.

 

“We changed the narrative of people by serving our parents because they’re proud of the very same girl who they used to point fingers at.” says Roopa.

 

The term family is renewed for these women. Once they were alienated from one, now they are proud members of one that looks over them, supports their children and gives them a chance to dream again.

 

“We learn together, we work together and sometimes, we even dance together. This is another family and maybe now, I never want to leave this family.”

 

Staff Feministaa

Feministaa is your happy space, where you will get your daily dose of motivation!


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