In India, a cafe for women was doused with acid

Published by
Peter Kavinsky

David Asta Alares

Noida, India, 21st September (EFE) — Nagma turned down a relative’s requests for marriage and paid for her independence with a jet of acid on her face that disfigured her, forcing her to hide her scars until she discovered a cafe run by survivors where he works, and now opens his local room in India.

“There was a time when I thought I was the only girl in the world who was attacked with acid,” she explains to Efe, taking advantage of a quiet moment at the Sheroes Hangout cafe in Noida, a town near the capital. surrounded by clients and other young women in the same situation who look at the world with open faces.

Since the opening of the first establishment in the northern city of Agra in 2014, the same year that Nagma was attacked, the initiative launched by the Changw Foundation has expanded to three locations, tougher punishments for aggressors, and fewer attacks. .

The problems for the survivors remain indelible on their faces, and the acid remains within reach despite orders to limit its purchase.

Manini, an acid attack survivor, works at a café in Uttar Pradesh, India. EFE/AOS/RAJAT GUPTA

second Life

“The attacker was my cousin, he liked me, and he wanted to marry me. I refused,” Nagma explains, after serving refreshments and plates of snacks to a group of twenty young people who suddenly arrived at this cafe, which opened last May in the city’s bustling sports center.

He was only 15 years old. After the attack at a hospital about 50 kilometers from his home in Balrampur, in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, severe trials began.

“When I returned home, it seemed that all my dreams had collapsed. People came to me not out of sympathy, but to see what a girl burned with acid looked like,” he recalls.

Nagma stopped going out and, if necessary, forced him to leave the house, covered his face with a veil. He thought about suicide.

But she found strength when a young woman told her about a cafe in the northern city of Lucknow, where Nagma continued her treatment under the guidance of her fellow acid attack survivors.

“For the first time, I sat there with my face open,” he says, before remarking that it was there that he learned “the value of those girls.”

Manini is served in a cafe in Uttar Pradesh, India. EFE/AOS/RAJAT GUPTA

pursuit of justice

Rita Saini is waiting at the cafe at seven o’clock in the evening, it’s time to join the martial arts. She studies Spanish and English, and with a smile chastises young people who run around with noise and are used to dealing with journalists.

A young woman was attacked with acid in 2012 when one of her cousins ​​paid another man 125,000 rupees (about 1,500 euros) to ruin her life. He lost his left eye, had to undergo “fifteen or sixteen” surgeries, and his family had to borrow money to pay for them.

Saini joined the Chhanv Foundation in 2014, the same year that the Sheroes Hangout started in Agra, where she landed her first job and felt healed “after being able to talk to people” and tell them her story.

He admits that his attack remains an open wound because five of the convicts have been released on bail by the High Court in his home state of Haryana. While he would like to appeal the verdict to the Supreme Court, Saini will need “thousands and thousands” of rupees, an expense he cannot afford.

Defeat the target of the attack

When a man pours acid on a young woman, usually someone in her family or an acquaintance, his goal is not to kill her, explains Efe Alok Dixit, founder and director of the Chhanv Foundation and promoter of Sheroes Hangout.

“She wants to ruin a young woman’s life,” she says, relegating her to a life of pain and ostracism in a society that in many cases thinks “they must have done something wrong and that’s why she was punished.” . “

Now cafe survivors live independently and have jobs, when many of them come from poor families, they can wait to get married and become housewives, they continue their studies and even talk about their experiences.

Now the survivors who work in the café live independently and have jobs.

“The attacker’s target is defeated, he would never want to see a young woman so animated,” he explains.

The NGO launched a campaign demanding tougher penalties for what were considered offenses, as well as tighter controls on the sale of acid, which barely costs a few tens of rupees.

Following a Supreme Court ruling that toughened sentences and imposed restrictions on acid use, the country began tracking the number of acid attacks in 2013.

According to the Indian National Crime Records Agency (NCRB), 309 complaints were registered that year, and in 2021 the number dropped to 176, 102 of which concerned women.

A reduction that surprises Dixit, who attributes it to greater public awareness as it is now a “very serious crime” even though acid is still very easy to get hold of.

Written by David Asta Alares

Edited by Nuria Santesteban

Peter Kavinsky

Peter Kavinsky is the Executive Editor at cablefreetv.org

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