Sonam from Bihar and Ritu from Rothak have been visiting Delhi every 6-8 months over the past three years. They are undergoing a series of reconstruction surgeries for injuries caused by acid attacks. Delhi-based NGO Chhanv Foundation, which helps acid attack survivors and doubles up as a home away from home where their families stay during the treatment, has supported both women and many more like them.
According to Laxmi Agarwal, one of the directors of Chhanv Foundation and an acid attack survivor, "Nearly 1,000 incidents happen in India every year, but most of them go unreported." She is the face of Chhanv's campaign Stop Acid Attacks that has more than seven lakh followers on Facebook. The 24-year-old (along with her two-year-old daughter) also travels extensively to spread awareness.
Every time they hear of an incident, Laxmi and her team reach out to the family to guide and support them. The foundation has reached out to more than 300 victims and directly helped a hundred people, assisting them with treatment, legal aid and rehabilitation. Chhanv started a cafe and restaurant in Agra called Sheroes Hangout, run by survivors, and last March, a second cafe came up in Lucknow. "The Lucknow launch is important as we aim to stop acid attacks in Uttar Pradesh where the highest number of cases (186) had been registered in 2014," says Agarwal.
She also lodged a public interest litigation in 2006 following which the Supreme Court passed orders in 2013 on acid sale restriction, compensation for victims and recognition of acid violence as a separate offence with prison term not less than 10 years, which can extend to life term and a fine. Acid attack survivors can also claim benefits under the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016. Agarwal's story has also inspired film-maker Meghna Gulzar and she is now making a biopic on her.