social & justice

WOMEN'S HISTORY MONTH: Laxmi Agarwal

Karthika S Nair | Mar 02 2020
Image credits: Instagram/laxmiagarwal

Laxmi Agarwal: Social Activist Whose Scars Ignited The Fire In Her

"I can't think of a better punishment for my attacker than my success." -Laxmi Agarwal

Laxmi Agarwal was born in New Delhi in a poor family on June 1st, 1990. She was living a normal life as a teenage girl shuffling between school, home and friends. Her life and destiny changed in one moment all due to a man's inability to handle a proposal rejection. 

At the age of 15, Laxmi was approached by a man in his early 30s with a marriage proposal. She rejected him and his further advances. The man, Naeem Khan, who was her family acquaintance attacked her with acid with the help of two others at Khan market, Tughlaq road in New Delhi.

For Laxmi, her life changed before her eyes in one moment. The acid left horrible scars on her face and body. The man's intention was to permanently scar her so that she will be maligned, rejected and disrespected by a society that values a woman based on her beauty. 

Laxmi was forced to hide her face and wouldn't come out of her house for weeks. The acid left a permanent mark on her family as well. Her father, mother, and brother were shattered after the crime. In Laxmi's own words, her friends stopped visiting her and the man who did it to her went on to live a normal family life. 

Laxmi was asked to cover her face by many people. Others suggested that she should do the same thing to her attacker. 

"That's when I thought, what makes me any different from him," she said in an interview. 

But then, the fire was born in her and she decided to take it all upon herself to make sure that she can prevent such attacks on women in the future. 

She began the grassroots to curb the acid sale and give strong punishments to the perpetrator.

Laxmi's Legal Fight

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Laxmi Agarwal before the attack. Image source: Instagram/laxmiagarwal

In the year 2006, she filed public interest litigation (PIL) seeking new laws or amendments to the existing criminal laws like IPC, Indian Evidence Act and CrPC so that acid attacks are recognised as a separate crime. She wants survivors of acid attacks to be compensated and rehabilitated. At the same time, perpetrators should be given stringent punishment. 

She fought for a complete ban on the sale of acid to the common man because of the devastating consequences it can cause. She cited the number of incidents where women were attacked with acid, notably by men they rejected or was abusive towards them.

She even went on for a hunger strike demanding the government to provide compensation and rehabilitation to acid attack survivors. 

After the Supreme Court Justice RM Lodha slammed the government for their poor handling of acid attacks across the country, there has been the call to enact new laws to curb the sale of acid.

Laxmi said that she has had volunteers go purchase concentrated acid and she herself purchased one at one point. The Supreme Court ruled in favour of Agarwal in 2013. 

New Laws Against Acid Sale

After the court's judgment, the government introduced the laws that curb the sale of acid.

The person who purchases the acid should be above 18 years of age and should provide the dealer with an ID card. The dealer should inform the authorities of their respective cities where they have brought the acid from and who all purchased from them. 

The buyer will have to reveal the purpose of the purchase. 

Indian Penal Code Section 326 A deals with acid attacks and the perpetrators will be given 10 years imprisonment. Depending on the circumstances and severity of the crime, the penalty will be as severe as life imprisonment. Perpetrators will also have to pay fine to meet the survivor's treatment and other medical expenses. 

Laxmi's Life Today

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Laxmi with Deepika. Image credit: Instagram/ laxmiagarwal

Laxmi's fight against acid attacks and acid sale continues. She launched the Laxmi Foundation this year on the 'Bigg Boss season 13' stage. She has started awareness campaigns and talks about acid sales and acid attacks. She is also a motivational speaker who has spoken on many platforms, narrating how acid changed her face and the heart. 

Laxmi was the former director of the Chhanv Foundation that works for acid attack survivors. She worked with activist and campaigner Alok Dixit and was in a relationship with him. She gave birth to a daughter named Pihu. 

For her campaign 'Stop Acid Sale', she was conferred with the International Women Empowerment Award from the Ministry of Women and Child Development, the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation, and UNICEF. 

At the hands of the United States first lady, Laxmi received the International Women of Courage award, which is the biggest achievement she had received until then. 

Laxmi appeared on various programmes and shows. In 2016, she walked the ramp in London fashion week. And recently, she was featured in a Femina magazine cover with Deepika Padukone. 

Every milestone, every accolade she achieved and every time she smiled turned out to be a slap on the face of her attacker whose dream was to put her in vain.

Actress Deepika Padukone made a film about Laxmi Agarwal named 'Chhapaak', directed by Meghna Gulzar and written by Atika Chouhan. Deepika played the lead character of a girl who was attacked with acid but went on to rebuild her life. 

 

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'Chhapaak' poster. Image credit: Instagram/deepikapadukone

The movie was well-received by the critics. Deepika also raised awareness about the acid sale with a sting operation where she highlighted that lack of access to acid can prevent attacks.