I was punished for showing courage, for standing up against a man who wanted me to submit to his will.
Persistent molestation, ridicule and threat to my life did nothing to melt my steely resolve. Then, on February 15, 2006, I was made to pay for my courage when my stalker — a tenant at our Mansarovar Park home in east Delhi — threw acid on my face.
Within minutes, the skin on my face melted away and my eyes started burning. I lost sight immediately. The acid also damaged my nose, ears and lips. Seven years since, the burning sensation in my eyes has not stopped. The immediate impact of the crude chemical may have healed but I continue to ‘burn in hell’.
I am living in hell and I will probably continue to do so for the rest of my life. I have difficulty in speaking since doctors had to construct my lips by grafting skin from other areas of my body.
Yashpal (the attacker) used to tell me ‘Agar shadi nahi karegi to main teri zindagi barbad kar dunga (If you will refuse to marry me, I will ruin your life).
But I realised later that disfiguring of my face was only the beginning of a long and frustrating journey that I and my family had to pass through, and still do.
Healing my physical and mental trauma was not my family’s only worry. I am the oldest of five siblings and the fact that a man had been stalking his eldest daughter and making ‘advances at her’ was nothing short of a nightmare for my father.
He knew well that instead of abhorring the dastardly act of Yashpal, the society will only smear his daughter’s character. It was nothing out of the ordinary for a father in an Indian household with three daughters to marry off.
Yet, without any help from the government, my father — a class four railway employee — did his best to get some reconstruction surgeries done, knowing perfectly that nothing will return the vivacious, lively look on his daughter’s face.
One of my sisters and a brother study in a government school, while another brother rears cattle to sell milk. My other sister stays at home to take care of me.
Justice, in my case, came swiftly. Within a year, Yashpal was punished for his crime.
In 2007, a sessions court held Yashpal guilty and sentenced him to life imprisonment. Delivering the verdict, the judge said, “The act of the convict has destroyed a life ... This act cannot be forgiven and any compensation to the victim cannot be enough.”
The court also directed the state government to pay compensation to my family but that was the last we heard of it. Justice, came swiftly, but only from the court.
Reenu Sharma, an acid victim. HT photo
Life after verdict
The court verdict brought in focus my agony and the media was quick to jump on the ‘juicy story’.They all wanted to report my story; my pain and agony, and the irreparable loss my family suffered.
My neighbours assured me that extensive media coverage would ensure speedy compensation. Money was needed, to not only buy a face for me, but to pay immediate medical bills. I was happy that my family will finally have some succour, even if in the form of some money.
I know the medical bills related to the facial surgeries I have undergone have affected the kind of life my family could lead.
Officials from the Delhi Commission for Women visited me and assured my father of all help. They took me to an eye hospital. The doctors examined me and said I could be cured. Do not lose hope, they told me.
In my head, I saw a ray of hope for the first time and I thought I may not have to spend my entire life in a room without a view. I felt rejuvenated. I used to think my blindness was permanent. The women’s commission officials handed over a cheque for Rs. 5,000 and said we will take care of your surgery expenses.
The women’s panel officials also assured me of a government job but I insisted on treatment as I could hardly eat on my own, leave alone handling a job.
That was a long time ago — in December 2007. We have not heard from any official since. They have disappeared. It was all a lie. I have been forgotten.
I writhe in pain every day. I cannot see, but I can gauge the despair of my father as he has exhausted all family savings over my facial reconstruction surgeries. My father called the commission several times, but nothing moved. This hurts. It is akin to torture, and I am facing it at the hands of people who are supposed to be our rescuers.
I challenge the indifferent system that has acted against the man who threw acid on my face to extract revenge on me for refusing his sexual advances and marriage proposal, but which left me in the lurch.
Just tie a band across your eyes and see how the world goes black. I am living this truth for all these years. My father requested the women’s commission to help us for my eye surgery, but they never returned our calls.
Tell me how I can get my eyes; I ask you this question? I am not highly educated to file a case to get my dues neither does anyone in my family. Can anybody get me a response from the government?”.
Acid is cheap and easily available. It is used to inflict irreparable physical and mental trauma on a woman who often spurns sexual advances and marriage proposals. HT photo
Delhi Commission for Women reacts
Barkha Singh, chairperson, Delhi Commission for Women said: “The commission has no funds of its own. We receive funds from the Delhi chief minister’s office. Earlier we used to give out cheques in the range of R5000-15,000. Three years ago, the Supreme Court took away funding powers from the women’s commission.
Now, the Delhi Legal Services Authority is the agency, which disburses funds from the chief minister’s office. The commission cannot provide any monetary relief, but the victim can get in touch with me and I will help her.”
(as told to Sumit Saxena)
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