When Prerna Gandhi became a victim of acid attack at an age of 13 back in 2011, her family wished her a peaceful death than see her cry in pain every single day. Little did this Rohtak family imagine then that their sporty daughter would once again play badminton, enjoy late-night movies, cherish her favourite ice-creams and dream of travelling the whole world to motivate thousands of survivors like her.
It was on June 18, 2011, when a tragic error – crime, nonetheless -- turned her life upside down. Prerna was returning home from tuition with her friend Yashika when some goons 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.
“While Yashika suffered minor injuries, my daughter received 40% burns, mostly on her face, neck and arms,” says Aman Gandhi, Prerna’s father.
“She has undergone 25 surgeries, and would require six more to reshape her disfigured face. The perpetrators have been awarded life term for the heinous act. But it still hurts that the conspirator managed to get away because Prerna’s friend turned hostile due to family pressure,” says Gandhi.
Now 19-year-old, Prerna, however, has made peace with her past and wants to focus on turning her dreams into reality — dreams that once seemed far-fetched. She lives with her foster family in Cincinnati, Ohio, in the US and is pursuing bachelors in business administration from the University of Cincinnati, where she has topped in the first semester.
“I’m really excited about visiting India in December to raise awareness on acid attacks. My university has partnered with Amity University, Noida, where we will hold talks for two days,” she shared with HT over phone from the US.
How she reached the US
“I was undergoing treatment at Apollo Hospital in Delhi, when we found about Shriners Hospital for Children in Cincinnati that offers free advance treatment to acid-attack survivors.
On our request, they accepted me and I moved to the US on medical visa. But then, I was encouraged by my host family to start my life all over again and I applied to the University of Cincinnati. Fortunately, they, too, accepted me and I got visa to study here,” she says.
Having lived in the US for over two years now, Prerna says she finds life there much better than in India, because people genuinely accept her instead of sympathising with her. “I was forced to wear a scarf or cover my face with hair all the time because people won’t stop staring at me in India. That made me so uncomfortable and reclusive. Some of my relatives and friends even stopped talking to me, while others just came once or twice to offer their sympathies,” she says.
“It was in the US that I felt normal again. My host sister, Gracie, has been my backbone. She pulls me up when I see no purpose in life. She says I’m beautiful being different and I don’t need to hide my face. Also, people here don’t stare at me when I go out,” says Prerna.
Despite her efforts, life remains a regular struggle for the 19-year-old. As she would no more be an adolescent next year, she would be deprived of the hospital’s policy under which she has been receiving free treatment. Her father, having spent over Rs 45 lakh on her treatment, is supporting her in all ways.
Even as her university is helping Prerna through special scholarship, undergoing treatment and going to the next year in college would be difficult for her if not for generous funders.
“The education here is costly. While I’m getting all the support from my family, I’m mostly dependent on fund-raising campaigns. I’m raising funds for my education at www.gofundme.com/prernanoni ,” shares Prerna.