Acid eats flesh – acid attacks can blind and leave a person unrecognisable. In India it’s estimated that there are a 1,000 such attacks every year, maybe even more. In Agra, a group of strong women, all survivors of acid attacks, have come together to run a cafe and tell their stories. One among them is 15-year-old Dolly, a smiling young waitress who works at Sheroes cafe in Agra.
Three years ago someone almost destroyed that winning smile. He didn’t succeed but there is no ignoring the thick scar tissue which snakes across most of Dolly’s face. The trouble began when a man from the same neighbourhood – twice Dolly’s age, wouldn’t leave her alone. He started stalking the 12-year-old schoolgirl, making lewd remarks and suggesting they should sleep together. Then one day he suddenly turned up at her house while she was playing with other children. “I ran away towards my room but he threw acid on my face. It started to burn and I screamed and shouted,” Dolly told BBC.
Dolly’s family immediately doused the raw flesh of her face with water and she was rushed to hospital. Thanks to the quick thinking of a doctor, her eyes were washed out and her sight was saved. Even so, Dolly is now permanently scarred and she still has trouble breathing because of the damage to her nostrils. She recalls the moment she asked to look in a mirror after returning home from the hospital. “My mother refused and told me I was still beautiful. She said I could look in the mirror later. Then my little sister accidentally put a mirror in front of me and I saw it. I cried and howled and screamed.”
For a year, Dolly ignored the gentle encouragement from her mother – to try venturing outside the house. Dolly’s life changed when her family heard about Sheroes. Here she met another survivor called Sonia, who changed her view of the attack. Dolly said,“She told me that I wasn’t the one who needed to keep my face covered since I hadn’t done anything wrong. The person who has committed this crime should be the one to cover his face.”
BBC states that Dolly’s assailant is now in prison. Dolly recently sent him a letter to tell him that he had failed to break her spirit. “You burned my face, but not my will to live. You cannot throw acid on that,” she wrote.
Earlier, in September 2015, Think Change India published a story on Sheroes Hangout Cafe.