Meet Acid Attack Survivor and Inspiration, Laxmi Agarwal

6 minute read
Meet Acid Attack Survivor and Inspiration - Laxmi Agarwal

Laxmi Aggarwal has been not just an acid attack survivor, but a symbol of hope, courage, and empowerment for women across ages and nationalities! She did not let an unfortunate event be her identity and redefined her future by standing up for her rights. Her inspiring story has stirred millions of hearts in the country. Her mission is to help other acid attack survivors so that they also can lead dignified lives. As she says “Usne acid mere chehre par daala hai, sapnon par nahin”, is evidence of the fact that the attack could not shake her dreams and willpower. Today, breaking all existing stereotypes and beauty norms, Laxmi Agarwal is now the face of many fashion brands, and her quest to emphasize inner beauty is gaining momentum with each passing day.  Let’s take a look into Laxmi’s courageous journey, how she struck a chord, and started the crucial discussion regarding the menace of acid attacks against women in India.

Courtesy: TEDx Talks

The Acid Assault

Laxmi Agarwal was born in New Delhi, on June 1, 1990. She was just a 15-year-old girl, in 7th grade, when she became the victim of a brutal act of revenge. Her attacker, Naeem Khan (32 years old), also called Guddu, threw acid on her in 2005 after she refused his proposal. One day, when she was passing through Khan Market, Delhi, Guddu and his brother’s girlfriend Rakhi, attacked her and left her unconscious on the street. 

Confronting a Traumatizing Reality

Laxmi recalls that she was so traumatized that she did not look at her face in the mirror for 100 days. She even considered committing suicide, but she decided against it because of the agony she would bring her parents. The unconditional support of her parents never left her while she underwent 7 surgeries over the course of 7 years. The surgeries cost around 20 lakhs, with the financial help of her father’s employees at the time.

Despite the various physical deformities, her mental health also suffered as she faced taunts and hate from society. Some people also went as far as questioning her upbringing and blaming her for the attack, she recalls.

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The Battle Against the Dark Days

Laxmi Agarwal refused to let this unjust and heinous crime, navigate her life and started to pursue a diploma. Despite the criticism and constant backlash, she completed her diploma in Vocational Training from the National Institute of Open Schooling with the help of her professors and peers.

With her parents standing by her as her pillars of strength, she took her case against Naeem Khan to the court. Guddu was condemned to 10 years in prison after a four-year trial, while Rakhi was sentenced to seven years in prison.

She also filed a PIL in the Supreme Court that received 27k signatures, seeking new laws and amendments that dealt with acid attack crimes, and also demanded a ban on the sale of acid. In July 2013, the Supreme Court issued decisions that resulted in the restriction of acid sales, compensation for victims, aftercare, and rehabilitation of survivors, limited government compensation, reservation in educational institutions, and better access to jobs.

Acid attack survivors in India are now given rights under the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016.

Breaking the Social Stigma 

  • She relentlessly worked to bring awareness and shed light on the necessary discussion of acid attacks in India, which led to the establishment of the Chhanv foundation in 2014, which assisted acid attack survivors with rehabilitation, medical and legal aid, counselling, job opportunities, etc.
  • Through the medium of her foundation, Laxmi Agarwal now counsels the patients on the right procedures to follow in case of an attack. She even encourages the public to donate skin.
  • Her cafe Sheroes Hangout, at Fatehabad Road of Agra, began to employ acid attack victims and provided livelihood opportunities, to work towards boosting the confidence of the survivors, to normalize interacting in the open, without hiding their faces, and to sensitize the issue further.

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#StopSaleAcid: Laxmi Agarwal’s New Cause

In 2013, Laxmi became a part of the Stop Acid Sale movement, intending to bring to light the acid violence in the country and how the societal stigma doesn’t allow an acid attack survivor to revive back to a normal and dignified life. A victim of the acid assault has a rough past and an uncertain future since society rejects them. The movement’s goal was to reverse this attitude and reclaim their lost recognition.

In the last decade, alternative products have clinically replaced acid in the majority of its applications. Because there is no practical application for acid in today’s world, it is mostly employed in horrific crimes. Hence, to nip the problem at the bud, #StopSaleAcid was initiated.

Courtesy: Laxmi Agarwal

Achievements and Honors

  • Michelle Obama, the former first lady of the United States, presented her with the International Women of Courage award in 2014.
US Honors International Women of Courage | Voice of America - English
Courtesy: Voice of America
  • For her effort ‘Stop Acid Sale’ movement, she got the International Women Empowerment Award in 2019 from the Ministry of Women and Child Development, the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation, and UNICEF.
  • She was named NDTV’s Indian of the Year.
  • In 2018, she was also given the renowned Mother Teresa Award.
  • She has broken the societal stigma of beauty by becoming the face of fashion brands such as  NIMAI’s new ‘Promise’ brand (a luxury fashion brand) and Viva N Diva (a clothing brand), despite her various surgeries.
  • In 2020, the ‘Chhapaak’ movie was released, which portrayed the struggles and triumphs of Laxmi Agarwal, played by Deepika Padukone, and made a powerful impact and evoked a strong message in the society.
  • She even partnered up with Nykaa, for their #WhatMakesYouBeautiful campaign. The ad was aimed at challenging the societal beauty standards that women have been accustomed to, their entire lives.
Courtesy: Nykaa

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Laxmi Agarwal’s Recent Initiatives

Since the coronavirus lockdown was imposed, Laxmi took to social media platforms to support and empower women facing domestic violence, asking them to reach out to her for any sort of help.  “I want to tell these women that they are not alone, they are warriors in their own ways,” she says. 

The stay-at-home orders and restrictions resulted in a sharp increase in cases of domestic violence, at the hands of husbands or family members, with people cooped up in their homes and tempers getting out of control. Laxmi hosts live sessions on Instagram, motivating her followers to speak up and providing counseling to deal with anxiety to those suffering from domestic violence.

She is also forming a support group in association with activist Yogita Bhayana, founder, PARI (People Against Rape In India) to stand with women who are victims of domestic violence. 

The inspiring story of such a strong and courageous woman teaches us never to lose hope in the face of an adversary. Laxmi’s commendable initiatives have started a fire of enthusiasm in people to speak up against heinous hate crimes against women in our country. We hope you liked this blog dedicated to the life of Laxmi Agarwal. For more such inspiring stories, check out our blogs at Leverage Edu!

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