“I had only two options – either to sit back and accept the disability and be dependent on my parents for life or to go out in the world and see what life has in store for me,” recalls Shaheen Malik, who not only survived an acid attack but also emerged as a beacon of hope for countless other victims. The 39-year-old runs a shelter home, Apna Ghar, for acid attack survivors and her journey is a testament to the indomitable human spirit.
In 2009, Malik’s life took a devastating turn when she fell victim to an acid attack that left her with third-degree burns on 90 percent of her face and body.
“I was doing my MBA in 2009. I was 26 years old, in my third semester and was working as a student counsellor at Punjab Technical University. One day, as I left the office, I saw someone on the road with a handkerchief tied on his face. I thought that he had covered his face due to the pollution. I went and stood next to him, intending to cross the road together,” Malik told Hindustan Times.
She added, “Suddenly, I felt some liquid on my face. I somehow realised that it was acid. I started screaming at the top of my voice. I think I can never scream like that again in my entire life.”
The attack was planned by four people (her colleagues and university students), including a juvenile. They envied her achievements and felt threatened by her competence. While the juvenile was convicted in 2015, the legal proceedings for the remaining three are still ongoing in the court.
“This will last a lifetime”: Shaheen Malik
The aftermath of the attack was a gruelling physical and emotional struggle for Shaheen. “I didn’t even know what acid attack is. At that time, I thought I would be fine after undergoing surgery,” Malik recalled.
The recovery, however, was much longer and more difficult than she could have anticipated. For over 13 years and counting, Malik has been undergoing numerous surgeries and eye treatments to restore her left eye.
Malik’s pursuit to transform lives of acid-attack survivors
Amidst her own healing journey, Malik realised that many acid attack survivors were left without proper support and resources. This compelled her to step up and restore hope and dignity in the lives of the victims.
After the attack, Malik started her first job in 2013 and has since worked with organisations like the Delhi Commission for Women (DCW), Human Rights Law Network (HRLN) and the Meer Foundation before starting her own NGO.
“I have been working with survivors for the last 10 years. Over time, I realised survivors don’t get everything in one place. That’s when I decided to start my own NGO,” Malik expressed.
Foundation of Apna Ghar in Delhi
In 2021, Malik took the brave step of starting her own NGO, Brave Souls Foundation. Through the NGO and its shelter home, Apna Ghar, Malik has transformed the lives of more than 300 acid attack survivors by helping them with their surgeries, compensation and more.
The foundation provides comprehensive support from medical treatment and surgeries to psychological therapy, education, vocational training and more.
Husna Begum from Assam, one of the acid attack survivors at the shelter home, spoke to HT. She was sleeping on a cot with her three-year-old child when she was attacked with acid in 2014. She and her child faced severe burns. Husna lost an eye due to the attack. “I refused to sleep with an old man in the village, and that’s why he threw acid on me and on my child,” said Husna.
Reshma Qureshi was only 16 years old when she was attacked in 2014. Her own brother-in-law threw acid on her face. Like Husna, Qureshi, too, lost her eye. Her attacker served ten years in prison and walked out of jail this year.
Reema Kumari was 19 years old when her paternal uncle threw acid on her face over a land dispute. “I was with my grandmother at my home. I went to see a fair. When I came back, my paternal uncle tied my hands and threw acid on my face. He even tried to kill me and cut my finger so that I could not study further,” Kumari told HT.
Deepa Kumari was attacked in 2015. Kumari witnessed a group of boys fighting amongst themselves and was then attacked so that she couldn’t help the police identify who all she saw.
“I asked for my salary from my owner. He refused to pay me. When the owner went to drop off his kids to school, his driver threw acid on me,” recalled Basanti Devi, who was 45 years old when she was attacked in Delhi’s Vasant Kunj.
The survivors told HT that surgeries and court cases require a lot of money. Since they cannot afford such a humongous amount, they live in Apna Ghar.
Survivors demand a ban on acid sale
“We face many challenges – financial, emotional and more. There is a lack of sensitisation. People don’t cooperate with us and see us differently,” survivors told HT.
They added, “Sale of acid in retail shops should be banned. Kerosene was banned because it was used to burn people. So why not acid? Why is there no licence or something required for the purchase of acid?”
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