Acid Attack

‘Bias Against Male Acid Attack Survivors’

he society usually considers acid attack to be a gender-based violence. Firoz Khan recounts the acid attack on him and the slow, painful recovery from physical and mental trauma:   A cold winter night of January 2002, burnt my skin, corroded my life and crushed my spirit. I was 27 and married. We are three brothers and our family of 15 members lived together in a two-room house in Uttam Nagar, West Delhi.

That night, one of my brothers and I were watching television, when all of a sudden, we heard a commotion outside. My younger brother and my neighbor had gotten into an altercation. We rushed to diffuse the situation, but it was too late. It was as quick as lightening. The moment we reached the spot, our neighbour splashed us with a bucket-full of some liquid. As soon as it touched my skin, I felt a burning sensation.

I could see fumes emanating from my skull, face and back. The man had poured a bucket-full of acid on us and our skin and bones were melting with every passing second. The three of us ran from the spot. I was burned the most. I ran towards the community hand pump and sat under the running tap. This curbed the reaction of the acid to some extent.

While one of my brothers burnt his entire hand, the other one faced minor injuries. Someone from the neighbourhood informed police and we were taken to the Deen Dayal Upadhyay hospital. After some treatment the police recorded our statement. It seemed ridiculous how a minor argument escalated into an acid attack. It began two days ago when my younger brother got into a scuffle with the man, while chopping firewood to keep our house warm.

Life after that incident was never the same. The nights seemed endless, as I writhed in pain. For months, I could not sleep because of pus formation on my back. I tried getting treatment from Safdarjung hospital but I was told that I was required to take several months off at a stretch. I ruled out the option, since I had a large family to support. Other options were too expensive. I tried hard, but I could not save my job for long. I worked in the photostat department of a private company. The money we got was just enough for our basic sustenance. After the incident, when I started taking too many leaves, my office sent me a notice asking me to quit. My financial situation worsened and I was forced to resort to basic treatment.

I could not afford to go to a doctor, so I bought ointments without a prescription. A huge debt started piling up on me. I took loans from several people, not just for my treatment, but also for feeding my family. Meanwhile, I have another court battle to fight. After being splashed with acid, I now have to prove my innocence.

The accused was fined and served a three-year term in jail, but in retaliation he filed an FIR against us, accusing us of starting the fight. It is ironic how for the past 15 years, I have been trying to prove my innocence, along with continuing my medication and taking care of my family.

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‘I Couldn’t Look Into The Mirror For Four Months’

In November 2005, Mohini, 23, looked forward to join work with a private firm and contribute to her family income. However, a bitter man who couldn’t take no to his proposal, poured a jugful of acid on her dreams, literally. After chemical burns treatment, Mohini battled mental trauma and stigma. But, she decided to face the world as a survivor, not victim. Her story

It was an early morning in November, 2005. The haze of Diwali had not subsided. The air was still pregnant with the smell of burnt crackers. Accompanied by my father, I hailed an auto-rickshaw to reach Delhi Inter State Bus Terminus. I was scheduled to board a bus to Jaipur and join work the next day. As we drove out, I saw my neighbour standing at the end of the lane. I tried not to look at him.

This man and I had a history of sorts. Not long ago, he had promised to get me a job and had taken away my original certificates. But it was just a ploy for him to get close to me. He refused to return my certificates, until I accept his marriage proposal. He professed his ‘undying love’ several times and wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. Harassed and beleaguered, I filed a police complaint against him to retrieve my document.

On that morning, I chose to look the other way as our auto neared him. The next minute, I could only see fumes around me. Those fumes were emanating from my body. I felt something burning and melting away; it was my skin!

I screamed in pain. I couldn’t move, I lay there writhing in agony. A huge crowd gathered by then. A woman came running with a bed-sheet to cover me, my clothes had burnt off. We were rushed to the hospital. I was to find out later that my stalker had splashed a jug-full of acid on our auto-rickshaw and fled the spot. My father and the auto-driver suffered burns as well.

Chemical burns treatment is lengthy and expensive. Though I was getting treated at Lok Narayan Jai Prakash Hospital, a government facility, I had to purchase most of the costly ointments and medicines from private shops.My father too could not join work for six months due to his injuries.Our resources dried up.We had to borrow money from friends and relatives. 

Even after I was discharged from the hospital, the mental trauma remained. I avoided people, even those who came to enquire about my health. For about four months, I dared not go near a mirror. I was too scared to look at myself in the mirror. One day, I mustered courage to look at my new face. The horror of seeing my disfigured face for the first time is something I will never recover from. A stranger with a burnt face stared back at me in the mirror.  

I would be lying if I said that I never thought of ending my life. I had no one but my parents to support me.Friends faded away, relatives moved on. Worse, many of the people passed judgements like if I had married the man, I would not have ended up in this state. All my fault.

For two years, I went into a self-imposed exile. I refused to interact with anyone. Then one day, my mother posed me a question: ‘Who will take care of you after we are gone?’ That question brought me out of my denial. It was time I took control of my life and faced my fears.

The next day, I stepped out and went to the local market. I had prepared myself to accept all possible reactions – pity, fright, cringing, stares and looking away. I was ready to face the world. Next, I began applying for jobs and in 2009, landed myself a job as a tele-caller with a telecom company. Initially, I would get nervous at work, even dial wrong numbers. It was through one such wrong numbers that I met Gaurav, who would be my husband.

For a long time that we spoke to each other I did not tell him about my condition and the incident that had led to it. After our friendship reached a certain level of trust, I told him about myself. Our bond grew stronger. Then one day, he proposed marriage.

We got married in 2014, nine years after the horrible incident. My husband changed the perception I was holding towards men. He gave me space to grow and made me regain my confidence.

After marriage I left my job as a tele-caller. Meanwhile, I had applied for compensation at the legal aid department in Delhi Commission for Women. However, my application was rejected on the grounds that the Supreme Court had allowed compensation for acid attack survivor cases post-2011 only.

I went to DCW chairperson as a complainant and I came back home with a new hope. The commission had opened employment opportunities for the acid attack survivors. I applied for one of the openings. DCW chief Swati Maliwal played a huge role in boosting my morale. After a series of interviews, I bagged the job at the help desk. 

I love my job. I am the first point of contact for distressed women in DCW. I can connect with the complainants and they too confide in me. Their reaction and praises give me a sense of purpose in life. I also have another purpose in my life, raising my two-year-old son as a man who respects women.

Sexual Identity

'I Will Myself Decide My Sexual Identity'

Today, she works as a street sex worker on Delhi-Noida Highway and is pursuing a bachelor’s degree from Open College.   As the night falls, my day begins. This is also the best part of my daily routine. I take a warm water bath, carefully apply make-up and choose the ethnic wear from my cupboard that suits my mood. There would be matching bangles and danglers to go with the suit.

It may take more than an hour before I am satisfied with my outlook. But I simply love dressing up for the occasion. Like employees in corporate world, I too set daily targets. If I am able to earn Rs 2,000 during one night, I have made it. Anything less is an underachievement, and anything extra is a bonus. A bonus means I can treat myself to new clothes and jewelry.

“Babu chalta hai kya,” is my pick-up line. Trust me, most of my customers are left dumbfounded at the end of our encounters. I often earn extra tips for my oral skills. I feel like a queen with the kind of attention I get from my clients. Most vehicles slow down at my sight. I cruise around Delhi-Noida stretch from late evening till 4 in the morning.

Winters and monsoon are tough, but each job has its hazards. I usually charge Rs 300-500 per client. There are all kind of clients. Some are polite and well behaved. Some are drunk and get abusive and violent. But over the time, I have learnt to deal with them. I have travelled in the most luxurious and modern cars. My services are not limited to the street. I have been to several hotels and luxury apartments too.

I have entertained police officials and bureaucrats who pick me for special services. Yes, safety is another hazard in our dhanda (profession). You always meet clients who do not want to use a condom. But thanks to an NGO workshop, I have learnt the trick to use my mouth to cap a penis with a condom without even a customer knowing about it. I am an educated sex worker.

I am pursuing my graduation from Open College so I know all the risks involved. I cannot compromise on health and hygiene. I take HIV test once a month. Then there are rowdy bikers in groups who harass us. Usually, police patrols ignore us or only seek information from us. I know the stretch well, so whenever I sense trouble, I can jump on the other side of footpath with thick foliage. I have also marked some dark spots that can hide a couple of persons.

My transition from Suraj to Kajal happened the year Salman Khan’s blockbuster movie ‘Tere Naam‘ was released (2003). I would take my sister’s ‘dupatta‘ and dance on its songs. I was young, so nobody paid much attention at home but this is when I realised my true gender identity. I have three elder brothers and two sisters. When my brothers found that I had been wearing my sisters’ clothes, they would beat me up for bringing disrepute to the family.

I was enrolled in a government boy’s school in East Delhi. I was always quite the one in my class. My classmates would often grab me and try to force them on me. I would be bullied into giving some of them oral pleasure. One day, some senior boys grabbed me after school hours and took turns to rape me. I was left crying and bleeding. I even thought of ending my life that day.

My only solace was a classmate of mine who would come to my rescue whenever someone tried to bully me. It could be a perfect love story. But as school got over, we separated. I also separated from my family to own up my sexuality and moved into a locality with other transgenders. Here, we would visit houses of newly wed couples or where a child was born.

We would dance and haggle for monetary rewards. It was a day after the demonetisation was announced (November, 2016), when I was introduced to the life as a sex worker. A transgender friend Bobby asked me to spend an evening with her. She gave me her dress and helped me to apply some make-up. Around 10 pm, we went to the Delhi-Noida border.

I was anxious but also thrilled. That night I entertained 10 clients. This was quick money and since then I have been working during nights only. While working, I decided to study and took admission in B.A. course, opting for open college. I want to continue with my education after graduation too. I want to pursue a master’s degree in counselling. Who knows I would end up as a saviour for many women who have been trapped in another body but silently suffer it all their lives.

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Meerut Girls Troupe Tells Women To Get Up, Stand Up…

Dr Neera Tomar, principal of Malhu Singh Arya Kanya Inter College in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh, speaks about the #letmespeak squad which organises street plays that challenge the patriarchal mindset and urge women to speak up for their rights. The troupe also has a ‘thali wing’ which gathers to beat metal plates in front of repeat offenders. Dr Tomar explains the initiative:

 In March this year (2018), the national conscience was shaken by two gruesome rapes incidents, one in Kathua, Jammu & Kashmir and another in Unnao, Uttar Pradesh. The girls in our school were disturbed by these incidents. Many of them spoke to me about it. The universal feeling was: ‘what do we do about it? We cannot remain silent. We have to speak up!’ And thus, was born our #letmespeak campaign.

A band of girl students and teachers was formed. Their job over the next few weeks was to reach out to the far end of the society and sensitise people about women’s rights and the need for their empowerment. We realised the best and the most effective way of reaching out to our target audience effectively was to stage a Nukkad Natak (street play).

We all got busy. While teachers and seniors girls prepared scripts for our plays, the male staff in the college identified venues suitable for street theatre. Within a few days, our script was ready. The theme was simple: do not avoid eve-teasers on the road, confront them. Eve teasing is the most common of nuisance faced by women in our society, so that was our beginning point.

Our first play was about a group of schoolgirls who were being harassed by eve teasers. The victims avoided the culprits at first. But then, after watching a scene from Aamir Khan’s film Dangal, they decided to raise their voice and ensured that the crooks went behind the bars. The play was an instant hit because it presented what was in front of us; both the problem and the remedy.

Encouraged, we took our play to venues farther from the city. Our initiative was getting noticed and we got positive coverage in the local media too. As a result, girls’ institutions in neighbouring districts such as Hapur, Baghpat, Muzaffarnagar also started approaching us and offered to join the #letmespeak campaign. We were happy to train them about the script, character sketches, messages and target audience.

A few NGOs also come forward to offer their assistance in identifying venues and arranging for the transportation of the squad. We have also been receiving requests to take the campaign online. Social media has taken activism to a new level and we must cash in on the opportunity it presents. We are in the process of making our presence felt online.

A new addition to our armoury is adding a `Thali Gang’. The idea is to shame the perpetrators. On several occasions, the perpetrators are let scot-free by the police. At other times, they are out on bail and sometimes they go absconding. We have decided to gather outside the house of the accused and bang thalis (metal plates) to let the world know about the crime he has committed. Whatever we do remains within our legal rights to protests and spread awareness. 

The reporting of crimes against women, and subsequent media coverage, has risen in the region due to our efforts, but to truly mitigate these crimes, the mindset needs to be changed. It should be a collective responsibility of our society to stand up against such incidents. We hope our initiative is able to sensitise people to speak up.

'It's Tough To Be a Kashmiri Cop's Wife'

Read her heart-wrenching account here:

For the wives of policemen, the adolescent fancy of ‘being together’ through thick and thin turns out to be a distant dream. We halt for lunch. We keep waiting to dine together. We keep planning to attend family functions or funerals God forbid! together. We keep scheduling an outing. But that hardly ever happens. It’s not about solo parenting only.

We’re the biggest liars! We keep lying to our children that ‘dad is coming this Saturday’. We lie that dad is attending the parent-teacher meet this time. We lie that we’re going on a picnic this weekend. We keep lying that dad is going to join us this Eid, or that marriage. We keep lying to their old ailing parents that he is expected this or that day. We lie to our own selves. We wait and wait, and only wait. Let it be today, tomorrow or a day after, but the plan hardly ever subsides.

Even if it does, a police officer only marks his physical appearance at home. Mentally (and telephonically) he is attending to his duties without fail. The risks and dangers are increasing day by day. Every single casualty of a policeman elsewhere makes our life additionally insecure and worrisome.

Plus, the varying political ideology of the society makes it hard to explain to the people that doing a job in the police department never means disloyalty to one’s people. It’s not always a matter of choice. It’s only the state of affairs of our state that veterinarians are now working as DySps, while a degree in physical education makes you an administrator and a degree in politics lands you in business.

And specialisation in business administration makes you a government contractor. But those with expertise, in a layman’s discussion, prove you to be as outlaws. So the stress increases even when you are out of your home, because in case of any unfortunate event (a pellet injury to someone for instance), people do make us somehow feel responsible for the same.

And then, when anything untoward happens to the policemen, there is hardly anyone to even sympathise with us. I pray my children understand all this at the earliest. I wish my state comes out of these dark clouds and we see the dawn of a peaceful and prosperous Kashmir. The article first appeared on a local news website in Kashmir (PTI)