Remember the university student dissolved by three men here’s what she’s up to at 17, Sonali Mukerji had everything going for her. She was a beautiful, intelligent and ambitious young woman, dedicated aid to excelling in her studies. She was president of the student union, captain of the national cadet corps and an honor student set to pursue a PhD in sociology.
Despite her modest family background, her father used to work as a security guard in the eastern Indian state of Jarkland, and her mother was a housewife. I had seen my parents struggle for most basic things, so I strive to achieve something big so that I could give my family a better life, she said.
However, Mukherji’s life changed after three male students from her college started harassing her. She didn’t respond to their advances, so they threatened to destroy her. At first, she wasn’t intimidated. During her time in the Cadet corps, an organization in all schools and colleges in India aimed at grooming students to join the military, Mukherji had won several prizes for her shooting skills. On a hot summer day, when Mukerjee was fast asleep on the roof of her house, the three men threw a jug of acid on her.
For the first few seconds, she was in shock and didn’t know what had happened. All I could feel was this tremendous amount of pain. It was burning like someone had thrown me into a fire, she tells CNN. Ten years after the 2003 attack, in the fraction of a second it took for the acid to melt her face and part of her upper chest, mukerji lost her ability to see, hear, eat, walk and talk. Luke Heirji, now 27, said she looked and felt like a corpse.
I had hardly even lived my life, but that one incident changed the entire meaning of my life. I felt like the light had gone out all of a sudden and darkness had surrounded me on all sides. I had no hope. I didn’t know what to do, she says. Mccarragy’s heartbroken grandfather died soon after, and her mother fell into depression.
Only her father remained resilient. I can’t tell you how much it hurts me to see my daughter in this state, but being the head of the family, I couldn’t afford to break down, Sharon Das Masherji says. And with sheer willpower and determination, both father and daughter continue their fight for justice and for recovery. I decided I don’t want to die like this or live like this. I decided I can’t give up.
I have to get better. I have to punish those guys, and I have to support my family. I held my father’s hand and crawled back to life. Her father sold their family’s ancestral land, gold and spent every penny of savings on her treatment. She recently underwent her 27th reconstructive surgery.
It felt like the light had gone out all of a sudden and darkness had surrounded me on all sides. In 2012, Mukarshi decided to participate in the country’s most popular game show, the Indian edition of Who Wants to be a Millionaire. Before her win, Sonali’s family had run out of money to pay for further treatment after selling their ancestral land and her mother’s jewelry. Saali told CNN, my father spent every single penny. He sold our land, gold, everything to pay for treatment, hoping for justice.
She received no state funding after being severely disfigured when a spurned suitor and his friends broke into a room when she was just 17 and doused her body with chemicals. She took part because she needed the money and she wanted the world to know her fight as a victim of an asset attack. I’ve grown up watching your films, and now I can’t see you, but I can feel you, she told Amitabha Bhakan, who is India’s biggest superstar. She won the $40,000 jackpot, enabling her to move to the Indian capital, New Delhi, for better medical treatment. When she came to us, she had 98% burns.
She had no ears, no eyes, no eyelids, no nose, no lips, no scalp and no chest, said her doctor, Sanji Bajai. Bajai and his medical team have managed to reconstruct her lips, eyelids and nose, but the challenge now is to give her some kind of a normal face, somewhat close to what a normal human being would look like, he says. Senate said the acid normally used to clean rusty tools felt as if she had been thrown into a fire and said she was in unbearable pain for the first four months. She was a promising student in her hometown of Dunbar in the eastern Indian Jarcan region at the time of the attack, which saw her doused in a chemical called tzab. Her attackers are currently out on bail.
Signali, who now lives in New Delhi, was left partially blind and deaf as a result of her injuries. Doctors treating Sonali said the burns were so bad that she had no ears, no eyelids and no scalp. Sanjay Bajai, doctor at CEO BLK Hospital, said the challenge was to give her something like a normal face, somewhere close to what a normal human being would look like. The men who scarred her for life were freed after just two years in jail. Mccargy has appealed the court’s decision, but years on, she’s yet to get a date in court.
My father spent every penny hoping I would get justice, but in the end, we lost everything. While the criminals are out there, as well as the harrowing physical scars, the acid attack has left deep emotional scars on her family as well. Sidali’s mother struggled to cope with the incident and her grandfather had a heart attack. Her father, Chandi Das Mukherjee told CNN. Being the head of the family, I couldn’t afford to break down.
My father died of shock and my wife broke down into depression. Despite her horrific injuries, sonali has continually campaigned for tougher laws for asset attackers. This year the Indian government signed the Criminal Law Amendment bill, which brings in tougher punishment for those who commit violence against women. Acid attack is now defined as a separate penal code offense and perpetrators are recommended to receive a sentence between ten years in life. However, the stronger laws are unlikely to benefit final ali in her legal case not all people have the same faith.
That Tunneli has to change her tragic fate. India, a country grappling with violence against women, has one of the highest rates of acid attacks in the world. About 350 cases were officially reported in 2014. Their faces scarred. Most acid attack survivors virtually disappear from society.
But a cafe in the tourist hub of Agra, Shiro’s Hangout is helping them return to the mainstream by winning social acceptance for them. DOI Kumari, aged 15, never ventured out for two agonizing years. After a man who was 20 years older, her senior, chucked acid on her face for spurning his advances. She says she first came to the cafe I had covered my face fully. I did it in a way that even my eyes didn’t show.
But after serving and meeting customers for several months, dally has regained her confidence and has vowed never to hide behind a dupata, a piece of cloth worn around the neck in South Asia. She wants to return to her studies. I have so much courage. I can do anything to anyone. I too have a life.
Dolly says new Deli based non governmental group Stop Acid Attacks that works with acid attack survivors launched the cafe a year ago after making little headway in getting jobs and rehabilitating victims. Like Dolly, most of the women are attacked over domestic or property disputes or for rejecting sexual advances or marriage proposals. Allah Dixit, a founding member of the group, says families and neighborhoods worsen the plight of women with attitudes that compel them to become virtually invisible. Dixit says the isolation forced on them unwittingly by society is perhaps even more painful than the agony they suffered at the time of the attack. At Sheiro’s, he hopes to change the perception that a Disfigured face spells ruin.
This is the notion she wants to break. Your face is not all. You cannot ruin a victim’s life by ruining their face. Life is beyond how you look, he says. The cafe is an effort to spread that message softly, not through sloganeering and protests, but by bringing victims face to face with the public.
They gain confidence through interacting with the nearly 100 cafe customers, many of whom have visited after hearing about it through social media. Social acceptance has given a renewed sense of purpose to Rupa, whose stepmother threw acid on her in 2008. After the attack, she hit herself in the house. But after working at the cafe, she said she’s nurturing dreams of becoming a fashion designer. Closure designs are displayed at the cafe.
People come to meet us, they want to know our story. They sit and talk to us. At one time we were alone, even within our families. Now society reaches out to us, she says, to draw in people from all strata of society. The menu at the cafe does not set a price, letting customers pay what they want.
There are no official figures for acid attacks in India, but it’s estimated there could be 1000 a year in a country where acid is easily available. Despite laws implemented in 2013 to regulate its overthecounter sale. 70% of acid attacks target women and most are against those between the ages of 21 to 30. Laws to punish offenders have been made tougher, but it’s unclear if that’s helped stem acid attacks. While it’s clear that this veil is slowly being lifted from a crime whose horrific implications few saw earlier because victims went into hiding.
Although acid attacks occur all over the world, the type of violence is most common in South Asia. In 2006, there were 601 acid attacks in the UK based on ASTI figures, and 67% of the victims were male. But statistics from ASTI suggest that 80% of victims worldwide are women. Over 1200 cases were recorded over the past five years. From 2011 to 2016, there were 1464 crimes involving acid or corrosive substances in London alone.