Chhapaak: Why I Believe It’s Time We Chose Support Over Sympathy

The world of social media will be completely aware of the trailer release of Deepika Padukone’s Chhapaak – the first ever film to be made on the menace of acid attack. Directed by Meghna Gulzar, Chhapaak is based on the heart wrenching story of Laxmi Agarwal, an acid attack survivor and a social activist.

The trailer has already received great rounds of applause from the cinema fraternity and well as from audience. Deepika’s portrayal of Laxmi and her gripping performance is expected to be something to look up to.

So, why is this movie important? No, not because it is expected to be a commercial grandeur or a cinematic masterpiece, but it is very important to know what acid attacks mean! Beyond the pain and deformity that a victim gets for the rest of their life, it is important to understand how it causes social exclusion and humiliation.

What’s also important to know that this grave offence does not really entitle any stringent punishment. The culprits easily get bail and continue to a part of the society happily whereas the victim gets only adversity, pain and injustice.

The fact is Chhapaak should not be categorised as a woman-centric movie only because anyone can be a potential victim of an acid attack and pain does not discriminate on the basis of gender.

So, who is Laxmi Agarwal and why is her identity so important to us?

Born to a middle-class family in Delhi, a cheerful teenager Laxmi dreamed of becoming a singer. A man named Nadeem Khan, 32, wanted to marry her but she was not interested. Our society and the element of patriarchy that has been infused into it, that we cannot value consent. Nadeem refused to take no for an answer and stalked her, but she continued to reject his advances.

In 2005, Laxmi was on her way to a bookshop in Khan Market, when she was accosted by Nadeem, who attacked her with acid. She lay on the street, writhing in pain, until a taxi driver came forward and rushed her to the nearby Safdarjung hospital. That one moment, that one splash of this deadly chemical and the one-sided attraction of a man changed Laxmi’s life, forever.

She had to undergo multiple surgeries and was in the hospital for three months. When for the first time after three months she faced the mirror, she was horrified as she was left with no face. Eyes, ears, nose each and every part of the face was just reduced to pieces of flesh. People, especially women, taunted her and even spoke ill about her and family. They questioned her upbringing and faulted her for the attack. But the support from her parents gave Laxmi the courage to move ahead with the multiple surgeries she needed.

She was tormented both physically and mentally. She found her own sight unbearable and she refused to go out and meet people for quite a long period of time. Once, she even decided to put an end to her life but her parents brought her back from a dark place and supported her strongly. She started taking counselling sessions that gradually revived her confidence and faith in her capability.

The attack could not bring Laxmi down. In 2006, she filed a Public Interest Litigation in the Supreme Court and sought a total ban on the sale of acid. Her thought was why should such a potentially destructive substance be allowed to be sold in random shops?

In 2013, the court ruled in favour of her plea, and imposed restrictions on the sale of acid. The same year, Laxmi took the charge of campaigning for Stop Acid Attacks, founded by Alok Dixit and Ashish Shukla. Not only did she make people aware of this crime but also she worked extensively towards the social acceptance and self-dependence of the survivors by becoming their voice.

She was honoured by former First Lady Michelle Obama with the International Women of Courage Award. She was given the award for her courageous and selfless advocation for justice and human rights. Thereafter, Laxmi along with Alok Dixit and Ashish Shukla started the Stop Acid Attacks campaign, their efforts culminated in the establishment of Chhanv Foundation in 2014, an organization that works towards upliftment of acid attack survivors in every possible way. Alok Dixit and Laxmi fell in love and together, they crushed all societal prejudice to be together. They have a daughter together named Pihu.

Chhapaak is not a mere depiction of the misery the victims of such violence go through. It is rather, a ray of hope. This is to make all of us understand that just physical deformity cannot kill high spirits. This is a message for society that they must stop punishing those who have already gone through so much. While every survivor must be motivated to hold their life, we all need to support them, wholeheartedly in whatever possible way we can.

For example, a job opportunity can boost the confidence of not just the survivor but also her family and at the same time give them a scope of spreading their social interactions.

Also, we must raise our voice with equal conviction for acid attacks as we raise for other issues, to make anti-acid attack laws more stringent so that it can combat such crimes. The government needs to give all such victims strong legal and financial support through different measures. Let’s hope for a better tomorrow, built on understanding and support.

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