Disfigured in a Haryana acid attack in 2012 and requiring regular plastic surgery in New Delhi since, Ritu Saini (19) now faces the world boldly in a front-desk job at a café in Agra.
A budding volleyball player at the time of the attack, she now is on the Sheroes Hangout team with four other acid-attack survivors from different parts of the country.
“All thanks to the organisation Stop Acid Attack (SAA), which came forward to offer us the opportunity to earn our livelihoods and lead a normal life again,” said Ritu.
Sheroes Hangout is less than a kilometre from Taj Mahal on the Fatehabad road. “The SAA opened the café on October 19 as a pilot project. Rupa Rani (22), an Uttar Pradesh resident who shifted to Faridabad after the attack; Neetu (23); Chanchal (20); Geeta (42); are my co-workers,” said the teenager.
The café has started getting attention. Activists and celebrities who visit the city of Taj Mahal also drop in, like the crew of Aamir Khan television show “Satyamev Jayate” that landed recently.
“Aamir was not with the team but Gulabi Gang leader Sampat Pal Devi visited us to say we were doing a good job,” said controversial cartoonist Aseem Trivedi, who helps the women run the café.
“Sheroes”, he said, were the she-heroes, women who fought back for survival through chemical burn injuries; so it was an apt name for the café. Asked about the best part of her job, Ritu said it was hosting clients that chose to party at the café, such as a Belgian tourist group that came over on Thursday.
Her colleague Rupa Rani, who move to her uncle’s in Faridabad from Uttar Pradesh in 2008, said Ritu’s job was to man the front desk at the small library in the café, while she looks after the in-house boutique where designer wear was for sale.
The women hope that besides empowering them, the café will sensitise people against acid attacs and the government will be moved to enforce the ban on the open sale of acid in letter and spirit.