PARIS, May 8th. (Benin News) –
Next to one of the most famous tourist sites in the world, the Taj Mahal in the city of Agra, India, there is an inclusive project where women who survive acid attacks fight social stigma, lead a new life together by managing two restaurants and serving the tourists who come to support their initiative.
Their attackers intended to disfigure their faces to shorten their lives, but they are an example of overcoming and, with a smile, they show every day that the scars do not prevent them from being themselves.
Sheroes – a play on words between “her” and “hero” – Hangout is a project for heroines, as the name suggests. The main goal is that, thanks to social inclusion, more than 100 women have a job, a space where they can practice different activities and share time with other acid attack survivors who have lived like them.
Rupa, born in Faridabad, the largest city in the Indian state of Haryana, was attacked by her stepmother one night in 2008 because she didn’t want her to marry a man.
Sitting in one of the “Sheroes” chairs at the end of her shift, the 28-year-old remembers that “all her dreams have been acid erased” and her life changed dramatically when she encountered this project. She assures that she “she is very happy” and that her life “is fantastic”, she has worked in one of the cafes of the project since it opened in 2014 and, furthermore, she claims to be a stylist.
For her, this project “is like a family where everyone likes to be together” and says that when she has holidays she misses going to work because for her “Sheroes” “is life”.
Rupa tells her story to people who learn about the project to voice the acid attacks and prevent other women from being attacked.
“EVERYTHING HAPPENED SO QUICKLY”
Ritu, who moved from her hometown of Rohtak in Haryana state in northern India to Agra, is another of the girls serving the tables. Her dream was to become an international volleyball player, but one day, as she was walking down the street, she was approached by two men on bicycles and before she could suspect anything, one of them sprayed her with some. acid in the face.
“It all happened so fast. I don’t think a survivor of an acid attack would want to meet his attacker. But I would like to face mine one day and ask him,” Why did you do this to me? “Ritu says, adding that now. , thanks to “Sheroes”, it participates in activities that help raise awareness in Asian society on the fight against acid violence.
These attacks are a scourge in India. Between 2014 and 2018, 1,483 victims of acid attacks were recorded in the country, according to data from the country’s Ministry of Interior’s National Crime Records Bureau.
“Before 2014, there was no data on the number of acid attacks in India,” said Ashish Shukla, co-funder of “Sheroes” and executive director of the NGO Stop Acid Attacks, the organization behind the project.
Shukla points out that the project was started to prove that survivors of acid attacks can be and get whatever they want. “We are currently supporting over 100 survivors and providing them with legal, medical and educational assistance and, of course, empowerment,” says Shukla.
On the other hand, the Acid Survivors’ Foundation International (ASTI) states that the actual number of attacks exceeds one thousand per year and that India is the country with the highest number of crimes of this type in the world. Furthermore, according to Asti data, 76% of acid attacks in India are committed by someone close to the victim.
THE WILL TO GO FORWARD
This is the case of Dolly, who was attacked at the age of 12 by a 25-year-old man because she refused to marry him. The acid destroyed his nostrils, causing him a permanent respiratory problem. After the attack, he did not want to leave his home for more than a year. But working with other survivors at the “Sheroes” haunt gave her the courage to go on living.
Dolly says she sent a letter to her attacker saying, “You burned my face, but not my will to live. You can’t throw acid on that.
And she warned him that she would fight him in court, “not just for me, but for other girls so they don’t lose their nerve in front of people like you,” she wrote in the letter. Dolly is currently studying and aspires to become a doctor.
Since the launch of the “Sheroes” project, Ms. Shukla says she has seen a “small” change in Indian society. “People talk about it and women come with real stories and want to learn something; before 2014 they didn’t want to face anything, ”she says.
“The next step is to help these women become entrepreneurs and be part of businesses,” concludes Shukla, who hopes for a possible change regarding acid attacks in the future.