Ever since the trailer of the movie Chhapaak was released, the internet has been abuzz about the movie and Deepika Padukone’s latest role. But before you go and watch the movie, ask yourselves, how many of you are actually aware about Laxmi Agarwal, victim of the acid attack, upon whom the film is based?
Laxmi was like any other 15 year old when her life was changed forever. She hailed from a middle class family from Delhi. Laxmi wanted to be a singer and was trying to save some money to be able to afford singing classes. That’s why she started working at a bookstore in Delhi’s Khan Market. She was being continuously stalked by Naeem Khan, a family acquaintance, whose advances she had rejected on multiple occasions. Enraged by Laxmi’s rejection to his advances and marriage proposal, Naeem threw acid on her face. After the attack, Laxmi lost consciousness. During an interview she recalled, “when I came back to my senses, nobody was coming forward to help me. I was feeling as my entire body was set on fire. Then, someone came forward and splashed water on my face.”
After being rushed to the hospital, several buckets of water were poured on her. After assessing her condition, the doctors had told her parents that she won’t survive. For about two and a half months after the attack, she had to undergo multiple surgeries during which time she didn’t touch or look at her face at all. Once the bandages were off and she looked at her face for the first time, Laxmi felt devastated. She even thought of ending her life at one point but considering the pain her move would cause to her parents, she decided against it. During the course of seven years, Laxmi underwent 7 surgeries.
Laxmi, who was brought down by the attack, decided to fight back and in 2006, gathered 27,000 signatures on a petition to curb the sale of acid and filed a PIL. Despite taking a few years to take any action, the court finally ruled in Laxmi’s favour and directed the state government to issue licenses to sell acids to only a select few retailers. She also managed to get the culprits behind bars. The main suspect, Naeem Khan, was sentenced to 10 years in jail. Despite the curb on the sale of acid, Laxmi claims not much has changed on the ground level and even she was able to buy acid without the required formalities.
Despite having been released from hospital after months of enduring pain, Laxmi’s struggles were far from over. Every time she tried getting up, she was brought down by the society who, on every step of her journey, kept judging her based on her appearance. Not the one to give up so easily, Laxmi, with her family’s support, kept at it and regained her confidence. She started pursuing her diploma from the National Institute of Open Schooling, Delhi in vocational training. Laxmi received the ‘International Women of Courage’ award in 2014 by the then first lady of US, Michelle Obama. Laxmi is also a part of the Chaanv Foundation, an NGO that helps the victims of acid attack.