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‘They Asked My Parents To Poison Me, But I Survived’: Acid Attack Survivor Anshu

‘In my life, I learnt a new meaning of beauty. It lies in the heart, not in the face. Our ways to treat the people make who we are’, Anshu tells Outlook.

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Acid attack survivor Anshu is now reach out manager of Chhanv foundation
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(Trigger Warning: It contains explicit details of the sruvivor's struggle and may trigger emotions and past trauma.) 

What can introduce a person—traces of her geographical location or her cultural identity? If space of birth is the normative indication of the belonging, I was born in a small village namely Abidnagar in Bijnor district, Uttar Pradesh. I used to stay with my parents and four siblings- three brothers and one sister.

In our village, like many others, people were hardly bothered about the outside world. They were happy in their own way of life as I was. While my parents were busy in farming, we used to study. Apparently, to say that I had some big dreams would be wrong.

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In my village, girls were married off whenever they passed 12th standard or became 18th. rather I knew the pre-determined future. I was allowed to dream but knew communicated on our behalf if we had anything to say. Without much to aspire for, first 15 years of my life passed on like this only.

Up to class 8, I went to a government school that was within our village. However, as there was no high school, I had to take admission to a faraway school to further my education. The distance of my new school to my village was around 7 km that I used to cover on my bicycle. Things were going fine unless one of my neighbors whom I called Dada ji started following me.

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One day, as I was going to school, Dada ji blocked my road and said that he loved me and wanted to make 'relations' with me. I was utterly shocked. I told him that how could he think of such things- I was 15 and he was 55. I warned him that I would inform my parents but I knew it well that it would never happen. I neither had the bonding, nor the space to share such things. Even when I thought of sharing it with them, I feared that they would stop my studies and would get me married – so inevitably, I remained silent.

The days passed by and Dada ji's disturbance grew with the time. Someway or the other I dodged it and finished my 10th. Without saying anything about what happened, I shifted my school believing that he would at least now leave me. However, things didn't go as expected. He again blocked my road and out of fear I confined myself into my room. As I never used to miss the school, my parents noticed certain changes. Neither I liked to take food anymore, nor I talked much.

Observing this closely for a while my mother started asking me what has happened. Though primarily I didn't share anything, as she gave me confidence that she would be with me, I told her the whole episode. She then shared it to my father who went berserk and along with my brothers and mother went to Dada ji's house and told them what happened.

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Expectedly Dada ji denied doing anything wrong and the news got spread through the village. The village leaders warned him and told him to stop it. This is when his 'ego' was hurt. He couldn't believe that a little girl of 15 years could defame him for his objectionable behaviours.

February 12, 2014, to take revenge, he threw acid on me. I was sleeping then. Immediately I couldn't even understand what had happened to me as we had never heard of such things like acid attacks. I had no clue what chemical was hurled at me. Neither there was any hospital, nor any police station at my village.

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My eyes started coming out- skin started melting and whoever was touching me was having burning injuries. The situation was too serious and I was almost unconscious. My father somehow arranged a car from the neighborhood and I was taken to police station around 4 am. After the FIR was lodged, I was taken to hospital but the doctors there didn't know how to treat it. So, they referred me to Bijnor where the doctors failed again and had sent me to Meerut.

When I reached Meerut, it was already 13 hours since the attack. Every second I was praying for death- the pain was unbearable. In Meerut, the doctors advised my parents to take me to Delhi. But, as they insisted, ultimately, I got admitted and was there for 12 days. However, even in Meerut, I could not get proper treatment. Already my left eye had been damaged. The burn was so severe that my bones also got affected. A few people told us to get me admitted in a private hospital and I was shifted to one.

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After two and a half months when I came back to my home, my actual struggle started. The reaction of my villagers made me feel strangled. As I was completely blind for seven months, I could not even see my face. When I was not even taken out of ambulance, the neighbors started yelling- “She looks like a ghost. Who is going to marry her? She has become a burden on you. Why did you bring her back? You could have poisoned her in the hospital only…” These comments scripted the trauma that I had been through during my days in the village. Several times, I even felt suicidal as I started considering me as a 'burden'. But, to commit suicide one even needs the eyesight that I didn't have.

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As there was no counselling, I was on my own to motivate myself. Sometimes, my parents asked me to listen to some Youtube videos, sometimes, I was asked to do meditation. After seven months, in a fine morning, I certainly got back my eyesight. I couldn't even believe it. But for the first time, when I saw my face, I apparently lost my senses—what I could only remember about the moment was an intense scream and the sound of a fallen bowl. My parents removed all the mirrors from my house as they knew I would definitely try to see my face. I took water in a bowl and saw my changed face. That was the most tragic moment of my life as I could not accept the transformation.

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Again, suicidal thoughts started coming in my mind. But my parents said that you are alive to show people that you can even do something. They told me, "If you will die, nobody will remember you and you never know what they may do with your little sister." Then, I realized that I would have to do something for the people – I pledged to live a life for others.

As I planned to restart my educational career and went to school, I was not given admission as they told that "their students will lose the concentration seeing you". I never applied to any school anymore. Certainly, in the newspaper, I found that then the CM of the state Akhilesh Yadav met a few survivors at an Agra café namely Sheroes.

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For the first time, I got to know that I am not the only one and there are several sisters who also suffered through it. I asked my parents to take me there. The villagers again discouraged my father with all the possible demotivating words. Still, my mother stood with me and took me to the café.

There in the café I met Geeta, Nitu, Roopa and Ritu – all the survivors. I saw them playing, flying, talking to people and doing anything and everything that I wanted to do. They found me sitting at a corner covering my face and asked me to remove the veil. I was too ashamed to open it and told them that the 'people wouldn't like it'. But, they gave me the courage- “if you can't open your face and accept it, how can you expect people to accept you?” For the first time, I uncovered my face and my life changed forever. Since then, I have never covered my face ever.

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With the time, I got connected to Chhanv foundation and got a job in Sheroes cafe, Agra. I got a three months' training and later got promoted as library manager. I never had any idea regarding operation of mobile phones. But, in 2016, my friend Ritu bought me a smartphone with my salary and taught me how to run it. Then I started reading about acid attacks and joined the campaign. It was Alok bhai, the founder of Sheroes who gave me confidence and pushed me to the front and gradually got me connected to the broader campaigns against the acid attacks.

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In 2018, the UP government even tried to take away our café in Lucknow and we saved it with our campaign Save Sheroes. I gave TedX talk, got awards like 'face of courage' from a media organization. Now, I am in the reach out team of Sheroes. Earlier, there was a time when people didn't even come to me and now, I go to the survivors and bring them on board. The life has changed drastically throughout.

In my life, I have learned a new meaning of beauty. It lies in the heart, not in the face. Our ways to treat the people make who we are.

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Faces are normative, hearts are real- celebrating the love is what fills us, not the hate of acid.

(As Told To Abhik Bhattacharya)

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