My face was used to settle scores, says acid attack survivor Ritu Saini

Rohtak's Ritu Saini once wanted to be an ace volleyball player. Today, she spends her time doing household chores, after her aunt chose to settle a property score by burning her face. The 18-yr old talks to Sat Singh about her ongoing struggle. Laws against acid attacks
Hindustan Times | By Sat Singh
UPDATED ON JUL 24, 2013 10:07 PM IST

In a state notorious for female foeticide, a girl’s birth certifies the progressive outlook of her parents. But that didn’t stop others from making my life a living nightmare; so much so that I think dying in the womb might have been a better option.

Haryana, with its skewed sex ratio, isn’t the best of places for a girl to grow up. I have sensed the male supremacy — and retrogressive mindset — at every step.

But I had never felt our women could be dangerous too, capable of inflicting more harm than, say, a khap panchayat.

When I did on May 26, 2012, it was too late. The face I was born with had become history — the outcome of a property dispute.

I fell in love with volleyball while studying in Class VI at Saini High School in Rohtak. Like every day, I had started off for the volleyball court to practice that day too.

As soon as I reached the Prem Nagar Chowk around 4:30pm, two young men approached me on a motorbike. Before I could take evasive action, the pillion rider had splashed acid over me.

READ: Laws against acid attacks

The chowk is a bustling place. Shopkeepers crowded around as I lay there, squirming in pain. But nobody stepped forth to help; they were more interested in discussing the whys and whos of the incident.

Fortunately, my elder brother was passing by. He spotted me and rushed me to the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Sciences in a police van that happened to reach there at the moment.

I fainted on the way to the hospital. I regained consciousness the following morning to see my parents and other relatives crowded around me in the emergency ward.

They did not need to break the news. The expression on their faces told me how I looked — disfigured forever.

Every second of the two months that I spent on the hospital bed, I wondered what I had done to deserve this cruelty.

And I asked lord Krishna if it were His way of telling me I should not enact Him every Janmashtami at the local temple.

I was pretty good at dressing up and performing as lord Krishna. I used to be the unanimous choice of our colony’s residents to enact Him, and I couldn’t say no.

Before long, I came to know I was more than just a victim of an acid attack. My aunt, Rajwanti, had hired two men to target my parents over a property dispute. But why should anyone destroy my life by using my face to settle scores?

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The police filed a charge sheet five months after the incident.

Three of the accused were booked under Section 307 (attempt to murder), and five others — Rajwanti, acid seller Raju, Sohan Lal, Manjit and Sanjay Kumar — were booked under Section 120B (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code.

The Punjab & Haryana High Court has recently granted bail to Rajwanti and Raju.

The law took its course but it won’t bring back the phase in my life before May 26, 2012.

I received 45% burns on my body and 90% on my face, besides losing the right eye. The acid affected the sight in my left eye too; water keeps rolling down from it if I keep it open for long hours.

The neck and the left part of my chest are mutilated. I am almost like a visually and physically impaired person. And I feel like someone else wearing a misshapen mask. But my photo albums are proof how much I loved myself and enjoyed being the birthday girl once a year.

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I enjoyed celebrating every festival – from Holi and Diwali to New Year - with fervour. Those days are gone, confined as I am to our two-bedroom house.

Our house is quite close to my school and the volleyball court, and all my friends used to assemble at our house every evening. But no one, barring a solitary friend, comes in now.

And I can’t muster enough courage to visit their houses. You know the reason: People are not sensitive enough to give company to or be seen with a burn or acid attack victim.

Gone are the days of studying, playing and shopping. Today, I spend my time doing household chores or helping my mother stitch, sew or tailor.

And yes, reminding myself about what not to do and what not to eat. Now I can’t eat many of the things I could earlier die for, and I can’t go out in the sun without covering my face and burns.

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My father Sita Ram Saini, an automobile mechanic, is the sole bread earner for our six-member family. My medical expenses have added to his burden. To date, we have received only Rs 25,000 from the district administration. Nothing else!

My father has spent around Rs 2.5 lakh on my two major operations.

I feel bad that he had to spend his life’s savings on my treatment, forcing him to take a loan to meet the family’s expenses. My mother, Raj Bala, used to inspire me to make a name for myself. I am sure she did not want me to make news this way — another victim of the crimes against women in India.

My mother, once my guiding light, does not see even a spark at the end of the tunnel. Today, she keeps lamenting that I cannot get married because I have a “kharaab chehra” (ugly face).

But I hope to receive the Rs 20 lakh that education minister Geeta Bhukkal and Rohtak legislator BB Batra have promised me for surgeries in New Delhi to restore my face. And, God willing, lead a normal life again.

(As told to Sat Singh)

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