India: Stories from Acid Attack Survivors

Publication

Sep 24, 2019

Maria’s Story:

I am a burn survivor. That day started like any other, except of course for containing the seconds that would change my life forever. I went to the kitchen to cook the next meal. While I turned on the switch, I searched for the lighter to light the stove when I got a call from my neighbour who asked me to stop by. After I came back to my house I had completely forgotten about the turned knob of the stove and due to my severe cold and fever, I could not smell the strong odor of gas in the air. I found the lighter and lit the stove. The flames burst out suddenly catching me in their wrath. Saving me from further pain, my husband, who had just returned home, put out the fire, but sadly not before my right arm had melted up to my neck.

I was quickly rushed to the hospital where I underwent grafting, a procedure in which skin is removed from a part of the body to be placed on the burnt or wounded part. My fingers, arm and neck have suffered severe burns and contracture.

Years have passed. I just now underwent another surgery which was not performed correctly.

Maria is now working with Hothur Foundation helping design head couture for Ara Lumiere and is working towards an independent, happy life.

Gulnaj’s Story:

I am 20 now, but when the acid attack happened, I was only 18. The boy was from the next town over where my maternal grandmother lives, so, I used to visit her there frequently. That day, he saw me and started following and verbally harassing me all the way back to my house. I started by avoiding him, then repeatedly pleaded with him to leave me alone. To no effect. A few days later, his brothers came to my home and told my dad that they liked me and wanted me to marry their brother. My dad asked me, and I said no, I wanted to study. So he replied that he wouldn’t want to marry me off against my wishes. After this episode, I didn’t see him for two months. Until one afternoon, I was returning from college when I saw him. He was behind me, I turned to look at him and he threw acid at me. I fell down, I tried to get up and run. Many guys had gathered around. I pleaded with them, screamed, ‘Save me, he’s throwing acid on me!’ But no one came forward. I fell down again. He had a knife in his hand, and slashed my neck. I raised my hands to protect my face, and my fingers got cut. I lay there shouting for help, there was acid in my eyes and I couldn’t move.

I somehow got up and ran to a close by house. By then, the entire village was following me. I cried, “aunty give me some water, my eyes are burning.” But, instead of helping me, the people inside the house fled. They didn’t give me water. I ran out again, and that’s when he threw acid on my face, it poured down my body, my ears. Even then, I pushed him and ran. There was an “uncle” on the road, he caught the boy while I kept running towards home where my mom saw me and fainted. I went straight to the bathroom and poured water over all myself. It was burning like the inferno itself. Finally, my cousin took me to the hospital. The doctor said that we had to pay money right away or I would lose my eyesight forever. Somehow my mom managed to get the money. Two months later, I came home, I was supposed to take my exams. I was fully burnt yet even the college authorities didn’t help me: my hands weren’t working but they didn’t give me a writer. I became secluded from society and went through the agony of multiple surgeries which involved grafting skin from the thighs and using it to repair my face, a process severely painful and crippling. The surgeries were expensive, and had a lot of side effects and sometimes little success.

I passed four subjects and failed one. I wanted to study more. Today I graduated as a journalist but I am studying further. Hothur Foundation is supporting me so I can excel in journalism despite what happened to me. I don’t believe I should hide my scarred face, because I haven’t done anything wrong; the attacker is the one who must hide his face. He got a 10-year imprisonment sentence.

Sumana’s Story:

I was married by the young age of 19 and spent eight happy years with my husband and child. But one time, my husband started doubting me and became suspicious. Later on, I understood why. As it turned out, a man I didn’t know, was creating trouble between me and my husband by falsely claiming that  we were having an affair. Soon, I went through a painful divorce after which the man who had destroyed my marriage proposed to me in front of my house. The minute I said no to him, he signalled another person to throw acid on me, burning my face and destroying my eye in a matter of seconds. The attacker was imprisoned for a short time and released from jail. He now roams the streets freely and I am left to raise a child alone despite having undergone almost 16 surgeries.

I have always been interested in beauty and fashion and had a dream of walking the ramp. Today I can say, I got to accomplish my dream and walked the ramp (with lulia Vanthur.)  I am currently helping handcraft head couture for Ara Lumiere. Hothur Foundation is also helping to set me up since I want to start my own beauty parlour.

Photography courtesy of Bjorn Wallander.