Bello is Spanish for beautiful and is the name of this calendar which is a part of Stop Acid Attacks campaign by Chhanv Foundation, a non-profit rehabilitation group that helps acid attack victims regain their life and confidence. Kudos to them for this amazing work!
Every month portrays one of the 11 survivors, displaying with pride the aspirations she has, with no shame to show her face in public.
These women are not just coming out in the open without covering their faces but are also trying to pursue their dreams. They run a cafe in Agra by the name of Sheroes Hangout. The cafe also boasts of a library, a community hub and a boutique-all catering to various interests of these ambitious women.
In the society that seldom thinks beyond white colour of the skin and superficial beauty, these women are breaking the stereotype and telling the world that a person is much more than a face.
The story of each one of them is full of pain and the zeal for life beyond the pain.
The first month of the year features 17 year old Dolly, who was attacked at the tender age of 12 years by a 25 year old man who wanted to have sex with her. When she denied, he threw acid at her face and destroyed her nostrils,leading to extreme respiratory problems besides the disfigurement.
She is working at the cafe to raise money for her education. She wants to become a doctor.
The face of this month is Gita. She was attacked by her own husband, while lying asleep in her home. Her drunk husband threw acid at her and their two daughters, as he never wanted daughters. The younger one died and the elder one lost her vision. Despite this, the man was sentenced to only two months in prison,after which Gita chose to live with him as ‘she did not know what else to do’ in her own words.
This shows the plight of our women. A victim of acid attack is so frowned upon that she had no where else to go except be with the man who destroyed her family.
She aspires to become a cook and is working at the cafe to fulfil the dream.
March flaunts Sonia Choudhary, who once worked in a beauty parlour in Ghaziabad. Twelve years ago, her neighbour had her attacked over a petty disagreement.
Nevertheless, she recovered from the physical and mental trauma and continues to run a parlour from her home and does so without hiding her face.
This is Neetu, the little girl who was disfigured by her father, and left blind by the attack, and now works with her mother, Gita in the cafe. She lost her vision and the chance at literacy at the tender age of three when she was attacked, but still holds on to the dream of becoming a singer one day.
Till then, she is working at Sheroes.
Chanchal, the face of May,was attacked along with her sister, by four men, while they were sleeping on the terrace. The reason? The reason was that Chanchal dared to vehemently oppose sexual advances from them and raised her voice.
June showcases the face of a girl who was on the state volleyball team when she was attacked by men sent by her own aunt over a property dispute. The attack left Ritu disfigured, made her lose complete vision of one eye and partly of the other too. She dropped out of school and with that dropped her confidence. She has learnt to start her life again with the help of Sheroes and takes care of the library in the cafe.
Laxmi, another acid attack victim, did not bow to the stigma and went on to file a public interest litigation demanding the restriction of sale of acid and led to the directive of treating acid as a poisonous substance under Poisons Act,1919.
The implementation of the same is still not as strict as it should be, for some twisted reasons.
She continues campaigning for the rights of acid attack victims.
Meera, the face of August, is an acid attack survivor, still fighting for justice as her attacker is on the loose, years after the crime.
Isn’t justice delayed, justice denied?
The girl beaming beside the dresses on September’s page is Rupa, the Cinderella who could not escape her evil stepmother who threw acid on her face. Seven surgeries later, she is trying to live up her dream of becoming a designer by running a boutique inside the Sheroes Hangout. Her work is on display in the cafe and speaks volumes about her talent.
October showcases Rajwant Kaur, an acid attack survivor from Ludhiana, who wants to be a photojournalist. She was attacked while walking on the road with two of her friends. One of them did not survive.
November shows Sonam, Chanchal’s sister, who was injured along with her sister in the attack that was primarily aimed at Chanchal. She can barely see.
December showcases Rupa, Ritu and Sonia, surrounded by bubbles that depict their fragile dreams.
(I have just put up a couple of photos here. You can buy the awesome calendar at paltan.in and show your support.)
All these women have been subjected to a heinous crime for no fault of theirs. The attackers were strangers and family alike. Strangely, in our society, we are all so quick to judge the girl, even for crimes committed against her. The discussion is never about the culprit,but the victim. Most of the girls hide themselves in shame and spend the rest of their lives inside a cocoon because the attack lasted a few moments but the burn of the stigma the society attaches, lasts for eternity. If a victim becomes a survivor and tries to attain a new normalcy in her life, the stares do not let her forget. No one wants to employ them for we fail to see beyond the face.
These women are the voice of all the silent innumerable acid attack victims who either did not live to tell the tale or were suppressed into silence by the stigma. It is time we listen to them and acknowledge them.
These confident ladies are not even asking for help. They are holding up on their own, running a cafe to earn the money they need to pursue their aspirations. They are rather serving inspiration along with coffee at Sheroes Hangout, letting the world know that physical scars do not mar the spirit and dreams never die. The acid burnt their faces but could not touch their hearts and minds. They are shining examples of the fact that beauty was never meant to be skin deep and a personality is much more than a face. While other girls fret and fume over a pimple in front of the mirror every morning, these extra-ordinary women dare to wear their scars and face the world every day. They are truly Sheroes!
They are an inspiration not only to other acid attack survivors but also to all the women and girls to not judge themselves on the norms set by society and feel confident in their own bodies-tall or short, slim or fat, fair or dark! At a time when body shaming is commoner than we think and the size of a woman’s figure is given more importance than her personality, these women are a whiff of change. They look different but they are not ashamed of it! Confidence is the new face of beauty.
I salute you ladies and you have my word that the next time I am in Agra, I shall surely visit your cafe. It is very rarely that one gets to meet so many stars under one roof.
For all of you reading this, don’t you think the location of the cafe in the city that boasts of the world’s largest display of one man’s love for a woman, adds to the irony? The least we can do is adopt a mature outlook and learn to finally not judge a book by its cover?
|Meet the Sheroes at their cafe!
Author’s note: I am extremely proud to be writing this post for #SpreadTheVibe initiative. I hope this post inspires you all as much as this story inspired me.