Crime & Justice

Cafe chain in India helps acid attack survivors reclaim lives

By David Asta Alares

Noida, India, Sep 12 (EFE).- Nagma never dreamed that her refusal of a cousin brother’s marriage proposal would leave her with acid streaming down her face, disfiguring her, and shattering her independence until the discovery of a cafe chain run by acid attack survivors that is now opening its fourth branch in India.

“At that time I used to think I was the only girl in the world to be attacked with acid,” she told EFE, taking advantage of a temporary lull at the Sheroes Hangout cafe in Noida, swarming with customers and other young women in the same situation as her.

Since the first cafe opened in the northern Indian city of Agra in 2014, the same year Nagma was attacked, this initiative launched by the Chhanv Foundation has expanded to three locations.

The penalties against aggressors have also toughened and the number of such attacks has been on the decline.

But the challenges for the survivors remain indelible on their faces and acid is still readily available, despite orders to restrict its purchase.

“The acid attack against me was perpetrated by my cousin. He liked me and wanted to marry me. I refused,” said Nagma after serving soft drinks and appetizers to a group of about 20 young people at the cafe, which opened in May in a busy sports center in the city.

She was only 15. After the attack, Nagma went through an ordeal of operations at a hospital about 50 km (31 miles) from her home in Balrampur, in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.

When she returned home after two months, it seemed to her “if all my dreams had been dashed.”

“People would come to see me, not out of sympathy but to see how a girl burnt with acid looked like,” she said.

Nagma stopped stepping out of her house and would cover her face if she absolutely needed to go outside. She even contemplated suicide.

But she saw a glimmer of hope when a young woman told her about a cafe in the northern city of Lucknow, where Nagma continued her medical treatment.

The cafe is run by acid attack survivors.

“I was sitting there with my face uncovered,” she said, recalling her first visit to the cafe.

The biggest thing she said she had learnt during her two-year stint at the cafe is “courage from these girls.”

Ritu Saini waits near the cafe until 7 pm, when her martial arts class starts.

She is studying Spanish and English and is used to dealing with journalists.

The young woman was attacked with acid in 2012 by a person contracted by one of her cousins for 125,000 Indian rupees ($1,569).

She lost her left eye and had to undergo 15 to 16 operations, for which her family was forced to borrow money.

Saini joined the Chhanv Foundation in 2014, the same year the Sheroes Hangout cafe opened in Agra.

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