Every time I stand before the mirror, it tells me that I am still beautiful. My inner voice motivates me to march forward and show the world that I am no less.
It has been almost a decade now since I have been wearing a different face. I survived 75% burns on my face and upper body. My culprit was my husband. He had done it to me after about fifteen years of being together.
Things were never normal between us. I belonged to a family from Lucknow and he lived in a town in Banda. I was the youngest among seven siblings and my parents married me off when I was just 16. I had just finished my class 10.
He was a jewellery artisan. The entire family was engaged in gold and silver jewellery making. But soon after my marriage he quit work.
I had two daughters by then and no income to feed them. Things became difficult to manage and I had to move out to earn our living. He was very unwilling, but I had no other option. He was suffering from tuberculosis and couldn’t go out to work.
I joined Mahila Samakhya and gradually became a reporter at Khabar Lehariya, the all women newspaper of Banda and Chitrakoot.
His health improved, but he had lost all interest in work. Living on my earnings had become his habit. He did not want to work and stopped me from going out of the house.
Right from the very beginning, he thought that I was very beautiful and thus should not move out of the house. Our rifts became intense and I was forced to leave the house.
I took my younger daughter Komal with me, while the elder one Kajal lived with her father. For some months this continued; I would work with my daughter in my arms and manage things single-handedly.
Then, he came to me one day and said that we should unite once again. I agreed and we began to live together again, this time in a separate house, without the in-laws.
A photo of acid attack victim Meena Soni interacting with children. Ten years after the acid attack, she is living happily in Chowk area of Lucknow. (Deepak Gupta/Hindustan Times)
He did not work even then. I was the lone breadwinner of the family. My family expanded and I gave birth to a boy. Things were not very smooth, but not very tough either.
I would work the entire day, look after the family and every day we would have arguments in the house.
He put allegations on me and said that I should not go out to work. But that was not possible for me. Had I not worked, my children would have died of hunger.
I was a reporter and people of the area recognized me for my work.
It was a summer morning of 2004 when I was fast asleep. My children were playing outside the house. He came with a bottle of acid and threw it on my face. I woke up instantly. The burning sensation was strong enough to make me realize that I had been attacked with acid.
I ran and he caught hold of my saree. I threw my saree away and ran to escape. I asked my daughter to call the rickshaw and take me to the doctor.
Acid attack victim Meena Soni has so far got bail for 17 undertrials from the Lucknow Jail. (Deepak Gupta/HT Photo)
God had given me an extraordinary strength that day and I went to the hospital all alone. Thankfully, the doctor I went to was the same whom I had interviewed the last day. He recognized me and gave me the treatment right away.
I was in the hospital when I came to know that my husband had attempted suicide. May be he was scared of the consequences that would have followed.
Both of us were in a critical state and were shifted to the Allahabad medical college.
He died on the fifth day and I stayed at the hospital for about three months, getting treated for the 75% burns on my face, chest and hands. My children were sent to my in-laws' house.
Acid attack victim Meena Soni interacts with children. (Deepak Gupta/Hindustan Times)
The NGOs that I worked with supported me in all possible ways. They got me all the medical assistance that I needed. Finally I was back, but in a different shape.
I stayed away from my children for two years, as I was worried that if they look at me, they would get scared and might not come to me.
Then I underwent another surgery at Lucknow and got my children back after two years.
Today, I live in a rented house with my children. My elder daughter is 18 and is doing her graduation. My younger daughter and son are in class 7.
I work for under trial women in jails and get them legal assistance. I have got 17 of them out on bail. We give them skill training as well.
I could not fight a legal battle for what my husband did to me. But God only punished him for his act. I have no regrets today. I am capable enough of giving a good upbringing to my children.
In Lucknow, people don’t look at my face anymore. They recognize me for my work. All those who feel that spoiling a girl’s face can ruin her life must know that a woman has abundant courage and can fight all odds. (As told to Richa Srivastava)
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