She sensed something hot splash across her face, and then, she saw the fumes – from her body. The last thing Pragya Prasun, 23, felt before all went black was her face melting.Nine years later, on Tuesday, she stood before a packed hall in the city to relive her trauma.
“No one deserves this,” she said. “Today, the person who did this to me is living a normal life, while I invite stares and relive my horror over and over,” said Prasun, who suffered burn injuries in her eyes, chest, hands and back when a man threw acid on her while she was travelling on a train to Agra. Seven years later she founded Atijeevan Foundation in Bangalore to help others like her. “I refuse to let others’ action define me. I am not a victim, and so aren’t the others. We are survivors, and we will fight.”
Prasun’s fight for a better support system got a fillip on Tuesday with Acid Survivors Foundation of India (ASFI) – a leading fo rum for advocacy of acid related causes – launching its southern India chapter in Chennai.”Justice doesn’t come easy for acid attack survivors,” said Rahul Varma, national director of ASFI. “They face obstacles in every step they take in their fight – from hospitals that refuse treatment, to delayed trials and poor rehabilitation mechanism,” he said.
“We plan to set up a psychosocial burn-cum-rehabilitation centre that will provide holistic care to survivors. An insurance covering medical treatment and legal expenses is also on the anvil,” he added. ASFI will coordinate with various organisations including those of physicians, surgeons and activists engaged in similar work. It has come up with trauma care kits for those who handle survivors.
According to ASFI estimates, 100500 acid attacks happen in India every year. Last year, till July, 104 people were attacked with acid – an alarming increase of 70% over the previous year. The southern states, with 12 to 15 attacks every year, account for 12% of the crime in the country. Andhra Pradesh recorded the highest number of such cases, followed by Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
In the south, the foundation has identified 62 survivors. Surprisingly, not all are women. “Acid attack is automatically pictured with women as victims. But the crime has no gender.There have been instances of men being attacked by women. It has either been the outfall of a domestic dispute or a quar rel over property,” said ASFI chairman Dr H P Kanoria.
Data sourced through RTI and from the National Crime Records Bureau show that 35% of the victims are men and boys, while 65% of them are women. Around 87% of the crime is committed by men, while the remaining are women. “We found that 11-30 is the vulnerable age group for women, while men between 21 and 40 years are more in danger,” said Dr Kanoria. The data compiled by the foundation also show that 71% of the attacks took place during the day.
In Chennai, the foundation will coordinate with Sankara Nethralaya, where several patients report with chemical burns.
Helpline numbers for Acid attack survivors: 919007612727