On April 22 of 2005, 15-year-old Laxmi Agarwal waited patiently at the Khan Market bus stop. Moments later, she found herself losing consciousness. India ranks number one on the global charts when it comes to acid attacks on women. Each week, an estimated three individuals fall victim to this crime. Acid attacks against women, like other forms of violence against women, have roots in a deep level of misogyny. This is evident in Laxmi Agarwal’s story.
Laxmi recounted the events of her acid attack in an interview with Vogue, “… A 32-year-old man proposed marriage to me. I said no. On April 19, he sent me a text proclaiming that he loves me and wants to marry me, and I didn’t respond. He texted me again, demanding a response, but I never did… He, along with his brother’s girlfriend stopped me outside the bus stand in Khan Market. The girl pushed me and threw the acid she was holding on my face.”
After undergoing a series of reconstructive surgeries, Laxmi could barely recognize herself, but this did not infringe on her perseverant drive to bring awareness to what had happened to her.
Change in Policy
The survivor took her case to India’s Supreme Court. Her case resulted in the institution of new regulations and penalties. Now, both federal and state governments are required to monitor the sales and purchases of acid. Laxmi Agarwal’s bravery prompted new, long-overdue conversations regarding the violence against women in India. As a result, legislation passed that continues to give harsher repercussions to rapists and offenders.
Change in Society
Laxmi fought long and hard to reclaim her face and life after her attack. She addressed the difficulties and struggles of trying to find a job after having society ostracize her for the burns on her face. To further normalize the rehabilitation process for acid attack survivors, Laxmi Agarwal joined and established numerous rehabilitation groups. One such group is a cafe that acid attack survivors run entirely. She works passionately to provide a safe space in which the girls who experienced acid burns can make friends and regain confidence without fear of societal judgment. She offers additional assistance, and encourages others to do the same through offering support to groups such as “Make Love, Not Scars.” This group hosts events such as fashion shows specifically for victims of acid attacks.
Besides donating to such organizations and educating people on the causes and effects of acid attacks, Laxmi Agarwal has entirely dedicated herself to spreading awareness. She worked alongside Bollywood superstar Deepika Padukone to turn her story into a movie, “Chhapaak,” released in Jan. 2020. Since then, Laxmi Agarwal has turned this seemingly negative experience into a learning opportunity. She has gone on to receive awards such as the International Women Empowerment Award. Her activism to better the treatment of women in her country has yielded tangible results, which have aided victims and raised awareness about the issue of acid attacks on women at large.
– Meghana Nagendra
Photo: Wikipedia Commons