Connect
To Top

Acid attack survivors take the catwalk in London fashion show

British Asian Trust and womens rights charity GMSP event is to raise awareness of violence against women

Laxmi [she doesnt use a surname] was 15 when a man poured acid all over her face, while she was walking in the marketplace in her home of Delhi.

Her attacker, a 32-year-old man, the brother of her friends, had wanted Laxmi to marry him. Before the acid attack he had stalked her for 10 months, repeating his proposals and often becoming violent toward her when she rejected him.

The acid burned the skin on her face and arms and she spent the two and a half months after the attack in hospital. Over the years she has had seven operations, costing a total of 20,000,000 rupees, or roughly 22,000, all of which had to be paid for by her family and friends. Her attacker was eventually jailed in 2009 for 10 years.

Laxmi
Laxmi on the catwalk at the British Asian Trust charity fashion show on Monday. Photograph: John Stillwell/PA Wire

Laxmi, now 28, has gone on to become one of Indias most prominent campaigners against acid attacks. She is in London to walk the catwalk at the Hilton Waldorf hotel in a fashion show to raise awareness about violence against women.

The event, organised by the British Asian Trust and womens rights charity GMSP, also features British woman Adele Bellis who is also the survivor of an acid attack, orchestrated by her former partner in August 2014.

Laxmi said she was shocked to learn that the number of acid attacks in the UK has almost doubled in the past 10 years.

When I found out that this is happening in the UK I was really surprised because I thought of course crimes would exist in a country like [India], but I never thought that something like this would exist. I was really shocked.

Laxmi said the attack had a profound effect on her and her entire family. Her brother and father died in the same year, shortly after her attack her brother from tuberculosis, which she believes didnt get adequate treatment because the family was so focused on her, and her father from a heart attack she believes resulted from the strain of her attack.

Despite this, her advice to those who have suffered acid attacks, and other forms of violence like rape and domestic abuse, was to resist despondency.

The world will automatically turn you into a victim and victimise you. I would say instead of having a mentality that makes you feel like a victim, become a fighter and become a voice for the people who are going through these things. So you can strengthen those who are going through violence.

In 2013, and after lobbying from Laxmis organisation Stop Acid Attacks, legislation was introduced in India that means all medical treatment for acid attack victims is paid for by the government. She has also been instrumental in getting legislation passed that regulates the sale of acid and gets compensation for the victims. She says that while these laws are good, there is a long way to go with enforcement and it is still very easy for people to buy acid in India and very difficult for victims to get access to the specialised medical treatment they need.

Laxmi has travelled to London with her partner and fellow anti-acid attack campaigner, Alok Dixit, and their 17-month-old daughter, She. Laxmi says having a family like this is something she thought would be impossible

[After the attack] each person who came to our home would say, The perpetrator could have cut your hand, he could have pulled your hair, he could have thrown acid elsewhere. Why did he choose to throw acid on your face because now you can never get married, said Laxmi.

At the time I couldnt even look or think past this episode, it was too overwhelming. Forget thinking about marriage at the time, I couldnt even think about life beyond this. But who wouldve known I would find love in the end.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/sep/12/acid-attack-survivors-laxmi-and-adele-bellis-take-the-catwalk-in-london-fashion-show