“There is a face beneath this mask, but it isn’t me. I’m no more that face than I am the muscles beneath it, or the bones beneath that.”
—Steeve Moore, V For Vendetta
People wear masks mostly to hide their motives, to resist the society from prying into their mindscapes. But what of those who are forced to hide behind masks by the society they are supposedly a part of? Where do they go to find succour? In a world where your face increasingly decides your brand value, those whose faces get scarred beyond recognition will invariably be pushed to the bottom of the heap.
Acid attacks have been finding a glorious spot in the list of violence against women in this country. Jilted lovers, mostly male, find relief in throwing acid on girls who wield their freedom of choice. Once scarred such a girl is generally expected to languish behind closed doors for the remainder of her life. For, who will marry a woman with a burnt face while arranged marriages continue to find takers and lover-boys write paeans on their beloved’s ‘blue eyes’?
No wonder the country was aghast at Laxmi, the face of the Stop Acid Attacks campaign, when she filed a PIL in 2006 against the laxity of the country’s laws on this issue and decided to ‘open her face’. But that is past and Laxmi emerged victorious. Not letting her scars define her she became an example of indomitable spirit.
Not long after Stop Acid Attacks came into being in March 2013, Chhanv Foundation followed in May of the same year, where acid attack survivors were provided medical care and rehabilitated. Out of this journey towards rehabilitation was born Sheroes’ Hangout. In the heart of Agra, the town perenially flocked by tourists busily gawping at Taj Mahal, came up this cafe run solely by survivors of acid attacks.
On a wintry Sunday morning, Tehelka visited this cafe to be dazzled by the formidable women who lend the place its warmth. Managing the counter, taking orders and engaging their customers in delightful chatter, these women will inspire the most cynical with their tales of resilience. Soon the Taj Mahal will not be the only reason for a jaunt to Agra!