Chhapaak’s real life hero Laxmi Agarwal inspires all with her determination
This week Chhapaak, actor Deepika Padukone’s latest film hit theatres across India. The film is inspired by the story of acid attack survivor Laxmi Agarwal. On the occasion of the release, we re-publish our story on Laxmi Agarwal, who is today among India’s most high-profile campaigner against the horrors of acid attacks.
Born to a middle-class family in New Delhi, Laxmi Agarwal was living the life of a regular teenage girl. Her life changed in 2005. She was 15 years old at the time, employed at a book store and looking forward to learning to play the violin.
One day at the market, Laxmi was pushed to the ground and a bottle of cold liquid was flung on her face. The person who attacked her was a familiar face. It was Naeem Khan, also known as Guddu. The 32-year-old man was Laxmi’s brother’s friend and used to stalk her.
Attacked at the age of 15
Laxmi felt like she was in fire and rolled around in an attempt to stop the pain. A taxi driver splashed some cool water on her face and rushed her to a hospital shouting ‘acid attack’ so people would make way. That’s when Laxmi realised what had happened to her. Her skin was peeling off her hands and face.
Laxmi had to undergo multiple surgeries, the last one left her on a ventilator for four days. She was in hospital for almost three months.
There were no mirrors in the ward I was in and every morning, the nurse would bring me a bowl of water to help me freshen up. All I could see was glimpses of my face. When I first saw my face afterwards, I was shattered. I had no face to speak of. – Laxmi Agarwal, Acid attack survivor
When the bandages finally came off and Laxmi looked into a mirror, she saw she had no face left to speak of. She felt huge despair, the scars were not just physical but also psychological. This was a situation that would have defeated most people. Laxmi rediscovered herself.
Rising from the ashes
Laxmi filed a PIL and started the Stop Sale Acid campaign. She was open about what had happened and in doing that she woke India to the plight of acid attack survivors. Her visibility ensured that laws were changed. Acid attack came to be classified as a major crime, with compensation paid to victims. Stringent laws were framed to ensure acid was not easily available with harsh punishments set aside.
“Laxmi shows us that nothing is impossible, said social worker Pawan Dubey. “I have seen her touch the lives of people who had given up hope and were even contemplating suicide. She made them strong in the face of strife. I salute a Laxmi. She is a symbol of woman power and the voice of those who cannot speak for themselves”.
In 2014, Laxmi received the International Women of Courage award from Michelle Obama, former First Lady of the United States.
Life has not been smooth sailing for Laxmi. She is a single mother and faced many struggles finding secure employment. But she has never given up. Today, as her struggles come alive on screen its a reminder of the incredible journey she has traveled. It also tells the world that there is so much more to us than the outward appearance.