Story of Lakshmi Agarwal - A Source of Strength to Many

File:First Lady Michelle Obama Honors 2014 IWOC Awardee Laxmi of ...

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“Look at her disgusting face! She is a liability to her family and a curse to our community. Who on earth will marry her?” This is what some of the people with a low mentality and narrow mindset often say about acid attack survivors. Owing to such strongly discouraging and judgemental statements, many of the acid attack survivors live in a hiding and some even commit suicide. But we do have a ray of hope amidst the clouds of endless judgment and hate. She is none other than Lakshmi Agarwal, the acid attack survivor who is now acting as the strength of many more like her.

Early Life and the Attack

Lakshmi Agarwal was born on 1st June 1990 in a middle-class family in New Delhi. She was attacked at the tender age of 15 in 2005. 

She was attacked by her acquaintances, Nadeem Khan aka Guddu, and Rakhi. This horrible incident took place at Delhi’s Khan Market. Nadeem Khan was his brother’s friend and a 32 years old man whose romantic advances she did not respond to. She refused to marry him and so he threw acid on her with the help of another of her acquaintances, Rakhi.

Struggles After the attack

Lakshmi endured pain and struggle for months as the attack took a toll on both her physical and mental health. She couldn’t put on any clothes as even a thin strip of clothing further troubled her already bruised body. Hence, she had to stay under a blanket for several months. Maintaining menstrual hygiene was the biggest challenge for her during that time.

Laxmi had to go through seven surgeries which took place over the course of seven years and cost around Rs 20 lakh. Her father’s savings and his employer at that time helped her family in bearing the cost financially.

Just after the incident took place, she was in a state of shock and couldn’t even touch her face or look at the mirror for about two and a half months. People, especially women, used to bad-mouth her and her family. All of this affected her so much that she contemplated suicide. But she decided to put an end to those thoughts because she couldn’t bear the thought of giving so much pain to her family.

Her Fight for Justice in the Supreme Court 

Lakshmi’s face and several other body parts were disfigured during the acid attack. So she filed a Public Interest Litigation in 2006. Her PIL lead to the framing of a new law, or amendment to the existing criminal laws like IPC, Indian Evidence Act, and CrPC, for dealing with the offense, besides asking for compensation. 

She also pleaded for a total ban on the sale of acid, citing an increasing number of incidents of such attacks on women across the country. After a series of failures of doing the necessary by State Governments, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Lakshmi’s plea in 2013 and created a new set of regulations for the sale of acid. This was done because the primary reason for the high number of acid attacks in India was the cheap and easy availability of acid.

Another result of this was Guddu was imprisoned for 10 years and Rakhi for 7 years.

Read more about Acid Attack in the Criminal Justice System

Heading Strong in Life

With her parents’ love and support, she gained confidence and start her diploma in vocational training at the National Institute of Open Schooling, Delhi. And one day, in 2009, she decided to break out of the cage she had to enclose herself in, just due to the societal pressure. She realized that pursuing a beautification and tailoring course while covering her face was useless. She decided that she had nothing to be ashamed of and so she gave up on covering her face with a dupatta and started to walk freely. This move met a lot of resistance but she was determined to do whatever she had decided for herself.

In 2013, Laxmi became a part of the acid attack movement. This happened one month after Alok Dixit and Ashish Shukla started the ‘Stop Acid Attacks’ campaign and their efforts culminated in the Chhanv Foundation in 2014. They campaigned aggressively and started a discussion around acid violence in the country. Further, through the foundation, Laxmi reached out to hundreds of victims and began to assist them with treatment, legal aid, and rehabilitation. The patients are kept in their Delhi facility, where they are given counseling and treatment and are prepared for rehabilitation.

When she met other acid attack survivors, she was deeply saddened and felt angry at the same time. Many of the survivors didn’t even have parental support. During that time, the public was very sensitive about rape and women’s safety. This further boosted her zeal and passion for fighting against acid violence. She runs her cafĂ© called Sheroes, in the busy Fatehabad Road of Agra. There she provides employment and livelihood opportunities to acid attack victims.

Honor and Achievements

Lakshmi’s story is an inspiration behind the Bollywood movie Chhapaak. It was released on 11th Jan 2020. It has been directed by Meghna Gulzar and stars Deepika Padukone and Vikrant Massey. She received the Women Courage Award by Michelle Obama in the year 2014. She is also a motivational speaker on an international level and has been credited for filing a PIL in the Supreme Court of India to make changes in the law dealing with this crime. 

 Laxmi was blessed with a daughter Pihu in the year 2015 with whom she shares many photographs on Instagram. She is now the epitome of strength and inspiration to many women and is working towards creating a change in the direction of Acid Violence and Women’s Safety.

Women’s Safety and acid attacks are not the only issues faced by women. Menstruation has also been a taboo for many years, both in India and across the globe. There are a lot of myths that are related to the same. Read more about busting myths surrounding Menstruation. There is still a lot to be aware of such issues and the least we can do is educate our family and friends on the same.

Written By - Neha Kundu

Edited By - Kashish Chadha 

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