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Acid Attack: Understanding The Journey Of A Survivor

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Trigger warning: Sexual Violence

The subjection of women to sexual violence, from eve-teasing to aggressive forms of sexual violence, has been on the rise. One such form of sexual violence is an acid attack- the “intentional act of throwing acid on an individual with the intent of harming, torturing, disfiguring, injuring, or killing them.” (Mittal, Singh & Verma, 2020).

At Least One Case Of Acid Attack Occurs In India Every Day

Acid attack is a heinous crime that has a specific gender dimension in countries like India. In India, at least one case of acid attack occurs every day. The number of acid attack incidents reported in the year 2018 was 228, according to the National Crime Bureau (NCRB).

However, the country with the most number of acid attacks has fewer convictions – less than 5%. The possible reason may be a rejection of love or marriage proposals, refusal to pay dowry, rejection of sexual approach, property, or family disputes.

The result of acid attack is unbearable physical pain, along with psychological trauma and socio-economic consequences because of serval surgeries and the legal proceedings and make the life of victims worse than death. These attacks are not only a brutal act but also a human rights violation.

The research and experiences shared by acid attack survivors have highlighted that the impact of this violence is multifold. Recovering from the physical wounds is one leg of the journey. The attack leads to a traumatic and deep psychological impact on the survivor’s mental and emotional well-being.

Survivors Of Acid Attack Show High Levels Of Psychological Distress

Research findings have revealed that survivors showed high psychological distress levels, including social anxiety and avoidance, anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress. They face serious issues related to social isolation, primarily due to the stigma associated with assault and physical appearance.

Gilbert et al. (2004) reported that Asian women believe that their actions can bring shame and honour to the family. Victims of acid attacks also experience hopelessness at times, particularly about their future life. Some victims felt hopeless about finding a job, prospects of marriage, or about life in general.

These feelings of self-blame, low self-esteem, helplessness, and hopelessness can ultimately lead to increased suicidal ideation among the survivors. Most of these post-assault negative experiences are linked to the stigma, labelling, isolation, exclusion, and discrimination meted out to the society’s survivors at large.

An individual who has encountered facial disfigurement due to an acid attack faces stigmatization, in employment and social situations, they are discriminated against and isolated from society. There is very little chance of marriage for them, according to society.

Victims often tend to blame themselves for their plight even though the situation was not in their control. The stigmatization leads to poor social functioning and isolation from society and family. The physical and psychological aftermath of an acid attack severely affects the lives of the survivors.

Given that these attacks are not accidental but are deliberately caused to disfigure and harm the person, it is essential to understand how these survivors cope with their conditions. Different social support systems can play a significant role in helping the survivors of acid attacks cope successfully.

NGOs Are Taking The Lead To Provide A Holistic Treatment To Survivors

Various coping strategies are employed at different stages of the recovery process, including religious coping (turning to God for strength, praying frequently); avoidance-based coping to deal with the ‘threatened identity’; emotion-focused coping to deal with the extremely negative feelings and problem-focused coping mostly when they come out of their struggles and move towards betterment.

These strategies can help survivors incorporate the disfigurement into their overall self-concept to lead a better life and regain a sense of normalcy and connection. However, efforts have to be made at a larger structural level to provide support to the survivors.

Along with societal stigma and psychological difficulties, survivors have to face medical, legal, and financial hurdles. The actual statistics may indicate severe under-reporting, and a larger number of survivors have chosen to remain anonymous due to social stigma.

Various government and civil society interventions have come forward. Ria Sharma’s non-governmental organization (NGO) Make Love Not Scars; Sahas Foundation, an NGO founded by survivor Daulat Bi Khan; and the “Stop Acid Attacks” campaign (2013) by Chhanv Foundation, which led to the subsequent formation of Cafe Sheroes Hangouts to employ survivors.

Thus, the acid attack survivor requires a holistic approach inclusive of treatment, rehabilitation, trauma, and legal counselling.

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Image is for representation purposes only.
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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