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It is never easy for a dalit girl in Bihar to dream big. Caste roles remain well defined in our state and it’s not often someone breaks free from the mould.
Yet, I dreamt of becoming a computer engineer. I was encouraged to pursue my dream by my father, Sailesh Paswan. A daily wage construction worker who barely earns enough to make the ends meet for our family of four, he wanted me — the elder of his two daughters — to be one up on all the boys of our community.
So, unmindful of his meagre earnings, my father did the seemingly impossible: he put me in a Plus-2 college and was making me undergo coaching at Danapur, near Patna, to take the engineering entrance examination.
Life was never easy but the hope of a rewarding future kept me going. Trips from my native Chitnawan village, under Maner police station of Patna district, to my college and coaching institute in Danapur were endless.
But I thought nothing of my daily grind that the 22-km trip entailed.
Then, late in the night of October 21, 2012, my whole world came crashing around me.
A few minutes short of midnight, four youth from my village climbed onto the roof of our single-storeyed Indira Awas Yojana house at Chitnawan, as I slept there with my younger sister, Sonam.
Two of them held my hands and the other two intruders poured almost a litre of acid on my face. As I writhed in agony, they laughed at me. One of them said: "Now you see we do whatever we say."
Some of the acid fell on Sonam as she tried to save me. My shrieks brought my mother Sunaina rushing to the roof. But the assailants deliberately stood there for a while before leaving, as if to enjoy the moment.
These boys had been harassing me for months. They used to pass vulgar remarks, pull my chunni and follow me on their motorcycles when I went to Danapur for my Plus-2 classes and coaching.
When I did not respond to their overtures, they turned abusive and threatened to teach me a lesson I would never forget. Focused as I was on my career goal, I thought nothing of it. How wrong I was.
For months after the incident, nobody came to help us. Even the local mukhia (village headman) and the area MLA avoided visiting us, let alone helping us, as the culprits are from a dominant community.
Since then, internet campaigns by several NGOs and a Maner-based social activist have had many people pledging their support for my treatment and rehabilitation. A Ranchi-based plastic surgeon has even promised to reconstruct my face.
When the acid attack was reported in the media, the Scheduled Castes commission stepped in and we, the two sisters, got a compensation of R2.42 lakh between us. The money, which was not enough to begin with, is long gone.
I have been told that the badi adalat (Supreme Court) has ordered compensation and free medical treatment for acid victims like me. This has rekindled the hope in my heart.
If my face can be restored, this dalit ki beti still has it in her to make something of her shattered life. Jab tak saans hai, tab tak aas hai (Till there’s life, there’s hope).
But the sarkar (government) has not done much for me so far. We have just returned from Delhi's Safdarjung Hospital after receiving treatment for some complications in my neck. The doctors there told me I have 90 per cent burns on my face. But we are left with no money for further treatment.
Those who ruined my life are in jail. But no progress has been made in the case as my statement under Section 164 of the CrPC has not been recorded even almost nine months after the incident.
We met IG saheb (Arvind Pandey, IG, CID – weaker sections) on December 31 last year and he had promised early action in this regard. Then my father met the Patna district magistrate in April this year. But my statement has still not been recorded.
Earlier, the excuse given for the delay was that I was not fit to speak owing to the severe burns on my face. Though I am now able to speak easily, my statement has still not been recorded for reasons unknown.
I want exemplary punishment to be handed out to the culprits so that it dissuades others like them from ruining the lives of innocent girls, who are pursuing their dreams under trying circumstances.
But neither the police nor the government seems serious in pushing my case. Perhaps, they think I am a poor, helpless dalit girl, not worth bothering about. Or, this is the situation maybe because the culprits belong to a dominant group.
But I will pursue the matter till my last breath. My father tells me I am a brave girl, full of fight. I will prove him right. I won’t give up till the end.