In 2005, fifteen-year-old Laxmi, after refusing to marry a man more than twice her age, was attacked with acid in New Delhi. She was waiting for the bus at school when the man approached her with his brother’s girlfriend. They pushed her to the ground and threw acid on her face. After this traumatic experience, Laxmi refused to step outside for two years. To this day, she has undergone more than seven major surgeries and struggled every day to express her grief and emotions with a still-severely scarred face. After many years, she gathered the courage to go out in public and decided that she wanted to speak up for other women and girls who have experienced similar suffering. She became the spokesperson for Stop Acid Attacks.
Laxmi fought with the Indian government and the Supreme Court for a decade, finally managing to file for a PIL (Public Interest Litigation). The central government of India then used the Poisons Act of 1919 to regulate the sale of acid in the country. This was a major victory for Laxmi and thousands of other survivors across the nation. The Indian government also recently passed a law mandating that hospitals cover expenses and treatment for these survivors.
In countries where acid attacks are more common, these violent acts are committed on a daily basis. As many as thousands of women are reportedly attacked each year; the actual number of these cases may even be double, since many go unreported. Stop Acid Attacks aims to change these circumstances by offering strength and support to those willing to raise their voices and to bring the perpetrators to justice. Our organization also highlights these stories for the purpose of fostering dialogue on acid attacks and other challenges to women’s human rights in India.
Despite Laxmi’s efforts to force the authorities to regulate the sale of acid in India, these substances are reportedly sold on every street corner without adequate legal paperwork. In addition to supporting the victims, Stop Acid Attacks continues to pressure the justice system to look at this problem closely. We have organized marches in Delhi and at the Parliament. Laxmi has stood in the assembly with her petition also at the Supreme Court. She has personally visited most villages in India to educate and inform the villagers of the evil of acid attacks and such forms of violence.
The formative years of my life were spent in India. Growing up, I often heard stories of the difficulties faced by joint families, members of an extended family living in the same household — a model still predominant in India. I heard stories of physically abusive in-laws who threaten their daughters-in-law, causing them to feel pressured to stay quiet and to avoid bringing shame to the family. In extreme cases of hostility, this form of violence, although predominantly emotional, would escalate to a bride burning or an acid attack.
An acid attack is the act of throwing acid, or a similar corrosive substance, onto the body of another with the intention to disfigure, torture, or kill the victim. It is also used as a weapon for revenge. Acid attack cases are mostly found in parts of India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Africa, but occur in other places as well.
In the summer of 2014, I became an integral part of an organization and ongoing campaign against acid violence. Stop Acid Attacks is a non-profit entity in India that provides long-term rehabilitation and assistance to acid attack survivors.
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Source: Women's Voices Now