It's been 18 years and Suman Kaushal, one of the 150 Dabwali fire tragedy survivors, has learnt to live with the scars. She hasn't forgotten December 23, 1995. Suman, who was only nine-years-old when the 'shamiana' caught fire at DAV School here, has undergone surgery 40 times so far, yet she has not been able to lead a normal life.
Today, her life remains confined to her house where she helps out with domestic chores and is bed-ridden most of the time.
Talking to Hindustan Times, Suman says: "Society has not been kind. Simple tasks such as taking a walk or travelling by bus are scary experiences for me. People stare and label me a witch and even 'manhoos' (unlucky).
While going out or travelling, I don't cover my face. I have gathered the courage to face the world with a disfigured face because what happened to me was not my fault. For whatever reason, it was an accident that could have happened with anybody."
Suman was in Class 5 at that time. After the tragedy, when she had gone to another local school for seeking admission, the school authorities refused to admit her. "They feared my admission will lead to parents withdrawing their children from the school. They asked my parents to try admitting me somewhere else," says Suman matter of factly.
However, with the intervention of social organisations, she was admitted to another school and continued her studies. "Due to medication and treatment, it was tough for me to concentrate on studies but with sheer determination, I completed my BA and B Ed courses," she says.