Is this love when you want to keep a person confined to yourself or to your home and never let them go or meet anybody else? Or is this just sheer madness or psychopathic behavior that you find pleasure in the pain of the people who you supposedly ‘love’?
These questions trouble one whenever a person shares how their own family, friends, kith or kin harm them in the most horrible manner. It shows a picture of humanity which you never want to see and can never imagine that it can be. Of the cruelest forms that this revengeful humanity can take is an acid attack, the pouring of a highly concentrated acid on a person with the intention to cause burn and ‘disfigurement’ (though no figure can be ‘disfigured’ with anything, the word here is used to mean an attempt to damage the natural form or figure). Is that how people go to an extent to prove their ‘love’ (or power, we may say)? How can love be so ‘toxic’? Why is the definition of love so twisted in some minds? What does one do to get attacked by someone with an acid having real intentions to burn the body? What kind of love are we cultivating in our society?
In February 2017, I had a chance to listen to Lakshmi, who is an activist, an entrepreneur and a change maker, at the first National Women’s Parliament. The event was a huge congregation of thousands of women across Andhra Pradesh, the host state and students and groups like us coming from colleges all over India. Some speakers were also from abroad. Each one of them stood out. So did Lakshmi. She first shared what had happened with her and how she brought change to her situation. This was no incident that happened because ‘she was asking for it’ wearing ‘clothes like that’. Lakshmi was just 15 years and the attacker was 32 years. She refused and ignored his ‘love proposal’ or ‘marriage request’ (or rather command’, we should say).
Like Laksmi, Reshma ‘invited’ the attack from her brother-in-law by dressing in her sister’s clothes. While Sonia was attacked by her neighbour because she refused to apologize for a mistake she never did. Her courage invited this gruesome crime. For barely a month old Shabbo, it was her drunk father who attacked her mother while she was in the lap. Her mother died due to the burns while she survived because of the medical care as she stayed at a hospital for the first five years of her life. What did she do to ‘invite’ such a state? She didn’t even say a ‘No’ or said anything to anyone. All these survivors have in some way or the other attacked patriarchal norms, either by themselves or by being associated with someone who did. The women who say no and mean it are not the ones liked by patriarchy which wants her to always submit. One good thing is that the ‘no’ was understood as ‘no’ and not as ‘yes’.
Unfortunately our society hasn’t yet cultivated our kids on how to respect that ‘no’. Especially, men were never told that a ‘no’ can also be respected. All we were told during growing up was that we should be ready with a ‘yes’ at any cost. While education today has empowered many women to speak her mind, the most dangerous part of empowerment remains to be tackled. Many of us including the men and boys were not told how to respond to a ‘no’ when somebody tells it. So when Lakshmi, at the age of 15 years, said ‘no’ to a guy 17 years older to her, he could not take it. When Reshma was mistaken for her sister and thus attacked, the reason was also a rejection- a lesson to be taught to Reshma’s sister for her ‘outrageous’ behavior with her husband. Shabbo fell into the trap by just ‘being there’ in her mother’s lap who might have just did a similar thing or by just giving birth to a girl.
As there are many Sonia, Reshma, Lakshmi or Shabbo, with burns to all over their face and body who attempted suicide seeing their reflection in the mirror, courage has also triumphed over many such trials. The strength of many of these acid attack survivors is a clear answer to their attackers. While they wanted to silence them for being brave, or being ‘rude’, or for being just themselves for that matter, these survivors have found that strength in their collective fight against such ill-treatments of the society. This same society that told these women that they were inferior, tells the men attackers that they will always be told a ‘yes’ even you have no response. But today Sheroes Café at Agra is the face of change where these survivor-fighters are on a mission to show the society that a burnt body cannot stop them from flying high.
A major problem in this whole situation is that one can get away with what unfair acts they do. Our systems have been biased towards men and women ever since the beginning. But these psychopathic attackers can go to any extent for their ill-passion and disillusioned self-respect, be it for sex or property or whatever. The gender of attacker and the attacked is also of great concern as most of the attacks are done by men onto women. Men have also been attacked due to professional competition, property disputes, etc. therefore, there is a need to sensitize our generations and the coming ones that humans need to be treated with humanness, kindness and humbleness. We need to promote non-violence among our children so that such violent behaviors are disregarded as inhuman by all and life is valued above all.