What if, in an instant, everything you know about yourself changes? The way you see yourself changes. The way others see yourself changes as well. All your dreams, aspirations and desires get snatched away from you. The world starts treating you differently and all of this through no fault of your own. This is a very feeble attempt at transporting you inside the mind of an Acid attack victim. All of us have heard about this horrific incident happen to someone at least ten times. Such is the prevalence of this monstrosity that it is difficult to escape the reality that it can happen to any of us, anywhere. Humanity dictates that this shared reality and the fear of it should bring women together to support one another. we might assume that those who are the victims of this heinous crime would be treated fairly, and be given all the help that society has to offer.
Alas! The reality is far from it. We often think that simply bring the perpetrator of an acid attack to justice is the end of the road. The ultimate victory in the journey of an acid attack victim. As if, after that all things will be perfect. And with this belief, we all move on to other things in life. What we don’t often consider is the fact that the trials in the life of an acid attack survivor never truly end.
From the point of time when the attack happens, till the end of their life, is a long journey filled with hardships and obstacles. Whether it be legal hassles that they have to go to, to see justice. The medical expenses and painful procedures that they have to undertake because of the attack. Finding a job to earn a livelihood for yourself. The difficulty of having to build your life from the ground up is unimaginable, to say the least. No language can accurately describe this experience. No number of words can convey pain.
But what can be conveyed is the belief that the attacker is the only one to be blamed in this life of hardship that an acid attack survivor has to live. Because in an ideal world, everyone contributes to making the life of a survivor better. In the real world, no one lifts a finger unless pressurised to do so. This begins with the police and the legal system that make it difficult to seek justice. Continues to the hospitals that don’t know how to treat the victim in the aftermath of an attack. Or sometimes refuse to admit the victim out of fear that they won’t be able to recover the costs of the medical help given. Or the society that shuns the survivors. The society that constantly tells them that not only has the life that they knew ended, but they also can never build a new one.
And this is how they are forced to live their life until they take matters into their own hands. An acid attack survivor cannot afford to depend on the goodness of those around them. In the world that we live in, they have to take matters into their own hands. That’s exactly what the ‘Sheroes’ of the Chhanv Foundation are doing.
Although the organisation officially started in 2014, it finds its roots in a 2013 campaign against acid attack violence called Stop Acid Attacks. The campaign began as an effort in bringing awareness of the rising number of acid violence occurring in India. During this campaign, the founders of Chhanv, Mr Ashish Shukla, Ms Laxmi and Mr Alok Dixit, realised the plight of acid attack survivors went far beyond seeking legal justice. They had difficulty finding jobs, getting an education and even the government, police and courts were not of much help. A desire to aid the rehabilitation of survivors and assimilation into the society gave rise to the Chhanv Foundation.
The foundation still engages in activism and undertakes activities and events to raise awareness. More importantly, they reach out to victims of acid attack within moments of the attack and offer crucial support in those moments. It isn’t easy to do this in a vast country like ours. And it wouldn’t have been possible without Chhanv’s vast network of acid attack survivors or their Sheroes, who lead and run outreach programs in their cities and states. A big obstacle in the path of rehabilitation is the lack of professional skills among the survivors. To give them some financial independence, Chhanv Foundation started the Sheroes Hangout Café in Lucknow and their e-commerce venture, A Gift Story.
Sheroes Hangout Café and A Gift Story
The flagship initiative of Chhanv Foundation is the Sheroes Hangout Café, run by its Sheroes. Its branch in Lucknow is the first of its kind, where acid attack survivors shun the shackles of society as they prove to the world that they are not giving up. This beautiful café with its scenic location, soothing ambience and amazing food is a must-visit for everyone in the city and visiting it. The best part is that it is run entirely by Sheroes, from cooking, waitressing to maintenance. Thus, providing a self-sustaining model to earn a livelihood.
Like all businesses, Sheroes Hangout Café took a hit during the COVID-19 pandemic. As restaurants around the country shut down, Sheroes Café had to halt operations. But this setback did not put an end to their will to thrive and thus, A Gift Story was born. A Gift Story is a one-of-a-kind online store gifting venture run by the Chhanv Foundation. Here you will find a range of sculptures, candles, stationery, paintings, cookies and chocolates, all things that will brighten up the day of whomever they are gifted too. But the joy doesn’t end here. First and foremost, everything being sold on A Gift Story has been made by Acid Attack survivors. And secondly, all the proceeds from your purchase will serve to benefit acid attack survivors associated with the Chhanv Foundation.
WomenNow.in in conversation with the Chhanv Foundation
We are sure that at this point you want to know more about these Sheroes that we have talked about so much. Who are they? What are their stories? There is just so much to learn from them. More importantly, as citizens of this country, it is important to know how we can help our fellow Indians. An excellent place to start would be the acid attack victims and survivors. An important way to help is through monetary contributions to the Chhanv Foundation. This will help their efforts to reach out to and help acid attack victims. You can visit their crowd-funding campaign (https://milaap.org/fundraisers/support-sheroes-hangout) on Milaap to make your contribution.
Equally important is learning more about the struggles that they go through. We live in a democracy where the voice of the people matters. Only when we will raise our voices against injustice will it be corrected. And that’s what we need more of. But what do you need to raise a voice against? So little is known about the struggles of the acid attack victims to begin with. But we wish to change that. This is why we did a series of interviews with the Sheroes of Chhanv Foundation to hear about their struggles. All these interviews will be uploaded on our YouTube channel, the link to which will be provided here. We will also be writing more articles that shed light on these discussions that we have had with the Sheroes.
So, what’s next? You can head to Chhanv’s fundraising campaign and contribute to the excellent work they are doing. You can also purchase Women’s Day Calendar 2021-22 to empower acid attack survivors with meaningful jobs in distressing times of the COVID 19 pandemic. ‘A Gift Story‘ is launching a Women’s Day Calendar 2021-22 illustrating micro-narratives of acid attack survivors becoming self-reliant. All proceeds from the sales will be used to provide employment to acid attack survivors in distressing times. You can support the cause by purchasing the Calendar and spreading the word about their campaign. Place your orders on WhatsApp: 9717172827
You can donate to a Gift Story at bit.ly/supportagiftstory