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Have You Ever Met an Acid Attack Survivor? #WATWB

Have You Ever met an Acid Attack Survivor?

We are the World Blogfest (#WATWB) focuses on positive stories no matter where they’re found. It is all about spreading peace and humanity on social media.

In the spirit of WATWB, In darkness be the light, I’m sharing a story from Stop Acid Attacks, an organization that campaigns against acid attacks and other forms of burn violence, and for the protection of survivors’ rights. The survivors often hail from underprivileged, extremely conservative backgrounds, and are now being provided an education and a safe place to continue pursuing their dreams. Here’s a news snippet in the LA Times that talks about some of their work.

Have you met an acid attack survivor?Today’s story is that of Rupali Vishwakarma, who was attacked a few years ago—acid was poured on her by someone she had considered a friend and mentor, in her previous life as an aspiring actress. The culprit was arrested, served a jail term of 1 year, and is now free to roam. (This fills me with rage–the injustice of it.)

Rupali now works at the Sheores cafe, Lucknow, India, an initiative launched by Stop Acid attacks. The Sheroes cafes are run entirely by acid attack survivors. Having one’s face destroyed in horrific ways leaves deep psychological trauma, as well as physical scars: in making them visible, customer-facing servers at cafes, the organization has helped rebuild confidence in these survivors. It also builds awareness and social acceptance.

Have You Ever met an Acid Attack Survivor?Rupali today is married to one of her colleagues, and with support from Stop Acid Attacks, is working towards establishing her identity beyond that of an acid attack survivor, as a choreographer. (Based on my feedback on an earlier post about acid attacks, I’m adding a warning: video might be upsetting to some audiences.)

I’m posting it because despite being a harsh reality, it is also a powerful story of a woman who has lost it all and is reclaiming her life inch by inch. I’ve hesitated about posting pictures before–I do not support all the selfies taken in the name of ‘social good’. For WATWB today though, I’ve decided to trust my readers to see the beauty and strength despite the devastation–and let Rupali speak about her aspirations.

During my research for my novel, You Beneath Your Skin, I spoke to some of the acid attack survivors. I remember it as an overwhelming experience, but very soon, just by being themselves, these girls taught me to see them for who they were. They have this beautiful sisterhood of survivors, there’s a lot of joy and laughter (and small disagreements, like any group). Violence, especially violence from men, has tried to rob them of their identity, but they have a cheerful defiance of the odds, and are redefining their own roles in society.

There is still much work to be done, in terms of education, counseling and mentorship–but the life of an acid attack survivor now at Sheroes is far better than one they would have had with their families, with little support for their treatment, and shunned by the very society that has wronged them.

What positive stories have you witnessed lately? Have you ever met an acid attack survivor? What would you say to Rupali Vishwakarma?

If you’d like to help an acid attack survivor like Rupali, please consider giving a small amount to the rebuilding efforts of one of Sheroes Cafes.

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This post was the  installment of the monthly We Are the World Blogfest: I’d like to invite you to join, if you haven’t as yet, to post the last Friday oWe Are the World Blogfest Writing by handf each month a snippet of positive news that shows our essential, beautiful humanity.

The co-hosts for this month are: Susan Scott, Peter Nena, Shilpa Garg, Mary J. Giese and yours truly.

Here’s a sampler of this blogfest. Click here to know more. Sign up here and add your bit of cheer to the world on the next installment of September 27, 2019!


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Damyanti Biswas

Damyanti Biswas is the author of You Beneath Your Skin and numerous short stories that have been published in magazines and anthologies in the US, the UK, and Asia. She has been shortlisted for Best Small Fictions and Bath Novel Awards and is co-editor of the Forge Literary Magazine. Her forthcoming literary crime thriller, The Blue Bar is represented by Lucienne Diver from The Knight Agency, and will be published by Thomas & Mercer on January 1, 2023.

I appreciate comments, and I always visit back. If you're having trouble commenting, let me know via the contact form, or tweet me up @damyantig !

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30 Comments

  • Rajlakshmi says:

    Every time I read story about acid attack victim, I am filled with so much anger! The culprit often run loose after a year or two, but the victim has to keep suffering. How cruel can one be to inflict such pain on others. These women are heroes. They are inspiring and so brave!

  • Kalpana says:

    Damyanti – I’ve met Rupali a couple of times and am so impressed by her courage in the face of what this man did to her. Hers isn’t of course an isolated case but she has brought so much publicity to this crazy cruel revenge of ‘slighted’ men that it isn’t easy to buy acid anymore. Glad you wrote about it.

  • dgkaye says:

    How evil can people be? I’ve heard of this horrific thing happening on occasion, but I wasn’t aware it was a cruel ongoing and planned evil. So disturbing that a human could do that to a fellow human. Rupali is a true warrior woman. <3

  • That is just horrid. I can’t begin to imagine what it means to the victim and everyone who loves her.

  • I have few words. Such terror leaves me at a loss. Yet, these strong women retain hope–and even joy. You said it best in your response to another commenter: “…at one go, I see humanity at its most cruel, and also at its most strong and beautiful.” I so look forward to reading your novel–and hope that it raises much awareness around acid attacks and worthy organizations like Sheroes.

  • Peter Nena says:

    Acid Attack is too disturbing for me. It is psychologically damaging even just hearing about it. I worked with concentrated acids in early 2000s–mainly nitric, sulphuric, and hydrochloric acids–and I remember how they react with certain metals, dissolving them, eating them completely. Throwing something like that on a person’s face for me is worse than murder. It is an unending torture.
    I’m happy about the Stop Acid Attacks Organization. Thank you, Damyanti.

  • One year jail for destroying another person’s life? I cannot comprehend how justice is served by such a limited jail time!

  • Susan Scott says:

    These attacks are simply horrifying Damyanti . And wonderfully extraordinary that they are able to rise above. Angels in disguise for sure. With buckets full of courage and grace. Thanks for sharing this, and for being a co-host.

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      Thanks for being a co-host, too, Susan. These survivors are so full of courage and determination–they’re setting an example.

  • Pam Lazos says:

    What strength in the face of adversity. My heart goes out to all such victims. Thank you for raising awareness for this issue, Damyanti. xox

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      Thanks for reading, Pam. they’re not victims any more, each of them is a fighter trying to reclaim what was robbed away form her.

  • Shilpa Garg says:

    It’s sad to see such pathetic punishments for the acid attack criminals. Yesterday, I read about Reshma Qureshi, an acid attack survivor and was filled with rage at the punishment that was given to the three perpetrators of the crime in her case.
    I have been to Sheroes Cafe at Agra and filled with awe and admiration at the spirit of these brave girls. More power to Rupali and all the courageous girls who do not let their scars come in the way of leading a happy and meaningful life.

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      Yes, more power to Rupali and her friends. I’ve read being Reshma–it is a moving account, and yes, rage, rage is what I felt upon how the perpetrators got away.

      Will be visiting Sheroes Agra and Lucknow this month, and I know I’ll come away inspired.

  • writershilpa says:

    We will never understand human nature, isn’t it?
    Just looking at the picture of the girls smiling bravely into the camera, and Rupali speaking about how she wants to become a choreographer and have an identity of her own, makes you want to salute their spirit but not before wishing you could personally punish the culprits in the strictest way possible for ruining those innocent lives!

    We need stricter laws, but I wonder how many more messed up lives before we see some change!

  • JoAnna says:

    Seeing the smiles on these women’s faces gives me hope that we can ultimately live well in spite of the damage done to us. Thank you for sharing this powerful story. I believe that every time this issue is presented, especially in such a powerful way, it will bring us closer to justice.

  • Obsessivemom says:

    I have been to this Sheroes cafe on one of my annual visits to Lucknow. It’s a wonderful place. And I was impressed with the spirit of the girls. It’s so very unfair that the culprits get away with barely any punishment after completely messing the girls’ lives.

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      I’ll be going to the cafes this September when I’m in India. And having spoken to the girls, I know the place must have tremendous energy.

  • Shalzmojo says:

    You have been spreading so much awareness for this cause Damyanti, its incredible work. Sheroes Cafe is an amazing initiative and is instrumental in helping these women find self respect and pride again. I really do condemn the Indian laws and Judiciary for being so complacent in punishing these attackers. There should be death penalty for them and nothing less.

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      Actually, Shalini, I have done very littel work with them–so much more remains to be done. Yes, justice needs to be swifter and more effective–I hope to see that day.

  • Mary J says:

    Damyanti, thanks for bringing awareness to this horrific issue in India and the positive way in which Sheores Cafe is helping the women whose lives have been affected by their scars. I wish the judicial system would take a harsher view at sentencing, but perhaps that will come next.

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      Much has been written about this, in very illustrious journals. Ground realities remain harsh–despite strong laws, there are problems of implementation due to systemic corruption.

  • JT Twissel says:

    Such a cruel thing to do. I just don’t understand human beings. I did have a Indian friend once whose mother was killed in a suspicious oven fire. Very sad.

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      Very sad, Jan. But the girls who have suffered the attacks are very spirited–at one go, I see humanity at its most cruel, and also at its most strong and beautiful.

  • I am horrified and outraged that the perpetrator was not put away for life! How can that be?
    Rupali’s bravery and fortitude is amazing. I had heard of these acid attacks but had no idea this was happening to so many.

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      Yes, horror and outrage were my first reactions when I met them–in what world does this happen to women? In the intervening years, I have come to be inspired by their spirit. The outrage remains, though. I hope the ones who did this face true justice some day.

  • hilarymb says:

    Hi Damyanti – those are horrific attacks … but how wonderful they are taking a positive stand and looking to improve and move on with their lives. Sheores Cafe has given them hope, while encouraging others to engage with these amazing positive women … thanks Damyanti – love the title of your book … so appropriate – ‘ You Beneath Your Skin’ … Thanks for sharing … sadly, it even happens here in our society. I do hope Rupal achieves her choreographing goal … she will shine – cheers Hilary

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      Yes, Hilary, this organization and the survivors do very inspiring work. I really hope she achieves her goals too.

  • Mick Canning says:

    She might deny it, but she is a heroine!

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