Laxmi Agarwal, who Deepika Padukone plays in Chhapaak, shares how not to talk to an acid attack survivor
In 2005, while walking towards the book shop near Khan Market in Delhi where she was an assistant, 15-year-old Laxmi Agarwal had a bottle of acid thrown on her face by 32-year-old Gudda, whose advances she had rejected. Laxmi had to undergo multiple surgeries, and slowly and steadily she started a campaign to curb acid sale, which led the Supreme Court ordering the central and state governments to implement the same.
In March 2014, the then First Lady Michelle Obama presented Laxmi with the US State Department’s International Women of Courage Award. However, the same year, her father passed away due to a heart attack and she lost her brother to tuberculosis. It was the same year when she fell in love with Alox Dixit, journalist and founder of the Stop Acid Attack campaign. The couple was in a live-in relationship, and their child, Pihu, was born on March 25, 2015. However, soon after their daughter’s birth, the couple separated due to personal differences.
Last week, Laxmi was back in the limelight when actor Deepika Padukone shared her first look from her upcoming film Chhapaak to be directed by Meghna Gulzar also starring Vikrant Massey. Deepika is playing the lead character, Laxmi.
We caught up with Laxmi in Delhi on the first day of the India Runway Week Spring/Summer 2019, where she was the showstopper for designer Laxmishriali. Some excerpts from the interview:
Do you feel nervous before walking the ramp?
I have walked the ramp around seven to eight times before too. While backstage, I have noticed that even the models get nervous before the show, but I don’t feel any nervousness. In fact, I remember the first time when I walked the ramp- I was actually dancing.
Has there been a change in the way society has treated you before and after it was announced that Deepika Padukone will be playing you in Chhapaak?
The ones who you don’t know will give you more love when they come to know about such news. The ones who already know you are the ones whose behaviour changes. After I was attacked with acid, everyone had left me. But then, when I came into the limelight on TV shows, they would see me on TV and say, “We know her! She’s my friend.” These are the same people who, when I would run into them on the road, would say hurriedly, “Oh I really need to rush off somewhere.”
But do you think maybe they genuinely became busy and hence couldn’t take out time for you?
People are busier today than they were before. So what changed all of a sudden? Why is it that those people remember me only when I do something? The same people who ignored me before message me on Facebook now. My ‘Others’ inbox folder on Facebook is full of messages from a lot of these people. I look at some of their messages and think, “Are these the same people who had thrown me out of their lives? The ones who would behave as if they didn’t know me at all?”
But it’s ok, ‘Apna time aayega.’
So do you reply to these people?
Yes, I say thank you to everyone because I don’t want anyone to experience the kind of loneliness that I have gone through. Because if I ignore them then it is like having acid in my mind. We need to remove the acid from our minds.
How should one not talk to an acid attack survivor?
Victimisation is the wrong way. The problem is, if someone is attacked, the question people start asking is, “How will she get married now?” Then the fact that I am a girl, and we are considered to be burdens right from the time we are in our mother’s womb. The biggest problem for parents isn’t to educate their girls, it’s about their dowry. And if she gets attacked in this manner, then she becomes an even bigger liability.
Is our face the only thing important for marriage? If a girl’s finger gets burnt people get so worried, but what if it’s your face? So I always tell people that I never was a victim, will never be a victim and shall not let anyone else become a victim too. The word ‘bechara’ only comes into the picture when you are victimising someone.
If you treat them in that manner, you would probably think of giving them Rs 1 lakh as a donation to help them out. But I would suggest that in a way you should adopt them instead. You should teach them, or help them with their monthly fees or expenses. You never know if that Rs 1 lakh is being spent responsibly. So after supporting them in their education, they would get a job and a monthly earning through that- which is better than the money you would give as help. People would want to marry her, and whoever does, will not be able to say that ‘no one wanted you.’
Laxmi feel dresses make a big difference. On various occasions when acid attack survivors came back to living their normal life and getting out of the house I had gifted them clothes. You feel a different kind of confidence when you’re wearing the right clothes.
The author tweets at @shadowwarior and can be reached at email@example.com