In 2005, she had just turned 15 when a 32-year-old man threw acid on her face. Her only ‘fault’ was that she turned down his proposal for marriage for which she had to pay a heavy price! But that did not deter Laxmi’s indomitable spirit. Now 26, she chose to become a fighter and bounced back within a few years of the incident. She actively started campaigning with an NGO ‘Stop Acid Attacks’ and came up with a petition to curb acid sales that led the Supreme Court to order the Centre and state governments to regulate the sale of acid. Recently, she also represented Indian women who are victims of violence at the London Fashion Week in England. She has also received multiple awards including 2014’s International Woman of Courage award by Michelle Obama, the first lady of the USA. HT talked to her while she was in Ludhiana to be part of a show dedicated to cancer survivors where she joined them in a ramp walk. Some excerpts:
Q. Though you did not let depression take over, what was the hardest part after you were attacked?
A. I was only a teenager so the trauma was hard for me to face initially. I would get scared when I looked into a mirror and I couldn’t step out of home because I had to face insensitive comments such as, ‘Who will marry her now’, ‘She looks like a witch’, ‘Her face can easily scare children’ and so much more. If I ever stepped out, I always covered my face. But this also made me realise that we live in a whimsical society where few are blessed with empathy.”
Q. How did you finally overcome the trauma and the fear of facing the world?
A. All thanks to my family and Aparna Bhatt, the lawyer who fought for my case. They continued to give me loads of positive energy to face life and it’s thanks to them that I finally stopped covering my face from 2009 onwards. This also gave me the courage to become an active campaigner against acid attacks which led me to open NGOs to shelter survivors.
Q. Do you think we need more stringent laws to put a stop to acid attacks or any other crime against women?
A. Just making stringent laws or making punishments severe will not help curb such crimes. We need to change our mindset about them. It is the first step and the most crucial one at that. The horrific comments that I had to face are also an example of our undeveloped minds.
Q. Why did you choose to be in a live-in relationship with your partner Alok Dixit, who is also a social activist?
A. I did so to challenge how we look at personal choices because we do not need a stamp of approval from society for everything. It is your life so you should be its director and not the society that never stands by in your hard times. We also have a daughter Pihu who will turn two soon. Interestingly, her official name is ‘She’ through which we want to symbolise girl power.
Q. What’s your message for acid attack survivors?
A. Don’t think about sitting at home to escape from the outside world because that will intensify the trauma and depression. Have faith in yourself to face life with enthusiasm. Remember, those who committed the crime should keep their faces covered and not us.