Prerna Gandhi , an acid attack survivor who is now studying Business Administration at University of Cincinnati, is an inspiration for thousands of acid attack victims in India. However, 19-year-old Prerna says that her journey to bring back love and acceptance to the lives of other acid attack survivors has just begun.
She is thankful to her foster sister, Gracie Doll, 19, who also studies in the same university. If not for her, Prerna would have never recovered from the shock and social stigma.
“Like me, there are thousands of women across the world who have been shunned by society for no fault of theirs. I want to send this message that with love and acceptance, we can heal the scars of these women,” said Prerna, addressing the students of Amity University in Noida on Monday.
t took her five years to heal emotionally and physically after a tragic acid attack in Rohtak, Haryana, on June 28, 2011 left her face and body disfigured. Prerna was returning home from her coaching class with her friend Yashika when some goons allegedly threw acid on her. Yashika was the actual target, as the police found later, of the attack orchestrated by her aunt over a family dispute. The hired goons had been told that Yashika would be riding the scooter. That day, however, Prerna had requested her friend to let her ride it.
“I suddenly felt a splash on my face and my world turned upside down after that. I had 25 surgeries in three hospitals and my own family wished for my death. I drew myself away from the real world, fearing stigma and discrimination,” said Prerna.
However, she found love and acceptance, almost 13,600 kilometres away from Rohtak, when Gracie Doll, a 14- year-old US teen saw her. While undergoing treatment in Delhi, she found out about Shriners Hospital for Children in Cincinnati that offers free advance treatment to acid attack survivors. She met Gracie there.
“When I saw Prerna for the first time, I realised that the right side of her face was disfigured and seeing me, she felt uncomfortable and started crying. I decided that I am going to be friends with her. It took time but slowly our awkward small talks turned into heartfelt conversations. Today we are soulmates, sisters and best friends,” said Gracie.
Prerna is now determined to bring positive changes to the lives of several other women who have survived acid attacks.
“No matter at what stage you are or how you look, always remember that you are valued and above all you have an identity. Never be ashamed about its cause the actual healing will eventually come from within,” said Prerna.
However, she and her sister chose to not mince words while criticising the government and the society for their failure to stop the attacks.
“When I visited Rohtak two years back and met a few survivors, I found out that their treatment was not for free. They were being hassled with paperwork and all the scheme money would go to the hospital. The policies, acts and schemes are only on paper and the ground reality is different. Acid continues to be sold openly in the market without any identification,” said Prerna.
Reacting on the recent amendment brought forward by Rajya Sabha regarding inclusion of acid attack survivors in disability act, Gracie commented that the government’s priority should be to stop such attacks at any cost.
“There are women at this moment who are facing such attacks and our priority should be to stop them immediately. Of course, free education for survivors through amendments in acts is a welcome step but a lot more needs to be done,” said Gracie.