Laxmi Agarwal, an Indian acid attack survivor, campaigner for the rights of acid attack victims, and a symbol of unyielding strength, has a story that transcends adversity. Born on June 1, 1990, in New Delhi, Laxmi's life took an unexpected turn in 2005 when she was brutally attacked with acid at the tender age of 15. This horrific incident not only marked the beginning of her personal battle but also ignited a fervent crusade for justice and change.
In 2005, Laxmi was a bright 11th-grade student with a promising future. Little did she know that her life would be forever altered by the actions of a man from her neighbourhood, Naeem Khan. Naeem, who was 32 years old, proposed to Laxmi, but when she rejected him, she kept it to herself, fearing the blame and potential consequences from her family.
Ten months later, Laxmi's life took a horrifying turn. While returning from Khan Market at 10:45 in the morning, she received another proposal from Naeem. When she ignored him, Naeem and his older brother, Kamran, resorted to a cruel and barbaric act. Kamran called Laxmi's name from behind on his motorcycle, and when she turned, Naeem threw acid directly at her face. Laxmi's world instantly turned dark as the corrosive liquid burned her skin, causing unimaginable pain.
A Good Samaritan, Arun Singh, rushed to her aid, taking her to the hospital while her skin melted from the acid. This incident, laden with suffering, gave rise to a resilient spirit that would inspire many. Laxmi underwent multiple surgeries, including eye surgery, and fought bravely to reclaim her life.
Naeem Khan, her attacker, was arrested four days after the attack, but was unfortunately bailed out a month later and married off. However, the relentless public outcry and media attention compelled the justice system to act, leading to his life imprisonment.
Laxmi's horrific experience led her to pursue a path of activism. She filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in 2006, advocating for the creation of new laws or amendments to existing laws, such as the Indian Penal Code and Criminal Procedure Code, to address acid attacks and provide just compensation to survivors. Her PIL also called for a complete ban on the sale of acid, given the increasing number of acid attacks on women in the country.
The Indian government initially assured the Supreme Court that they would work on a comprehensive plan to address acid attacks but failed to deliver on their promise, which angered the court. Subsequently, the Supreme Court issued new restrictions on the sale of acid, including an age limit and identity verification requirements. However, despite these regulations, Laxmi claims that acid remains readily available in shops. To address this issue, she launched the "Shoot Acid" initiative, aiming to present data on acid sales to the Supreme Court to underscore the gravity of the situation.
Laxmi Agarwal's personal life is also an embodiment of her resilience. She was in a relationship with social activist Alok Dixit, and the two made a bold decision to live together instead of marrying, challenging societal norms that often place excessive importance on the bride's appearance. Their families supported this unconventional choice, proving that love transcends conventional expectations.
Laxmi Agarwal's relentless determination and courage have made her a symbol of hope for countless survivors of acid attacks. Her hunger strike and unwavering campaign against acid violence have pushed for justice and rehabilitation for survivors. She received international recognition for her efforts, including the International Women of Courage award from former U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama.
Laxmi's story has not only inspired a nation but also transcended borders. The 2020 Bollywood film "Chhapaak," starring Deepika Padukone, brought her incredible journey to the silver screen, shedding light on her resilience and her mission to bring about change.
In a world where adversity can break even the strongest spirits, Laxmi Agarwal stands as a testament to the indomitable human will to rise above tragedy and fight for a better, more just world. Her journey serves as an inspiration to all, urging us to stand up against injustice and work towards a brighter, more inclusive future.