Meghna Gulzar’s Chhapaak, which recently dropped in, has been received with a lot of appreciation and admiration. It has left the audience wondering how powerful a woman can be.
Starring Deepika Padukone in the lead role, Chhapaak is based on the life of acid attack survivor Laxmi Agarwal. The film narrates the story of her bravery, battle, and eventual success in life.
In 2005, Laxmi, who was 15 years old, dreamt of becoming a singer. Her dreams were big, she was hardworking and diligent.
In the course of her pursuit to achieve her goal and fulfill her dreams, Laxmi came across a 32-year-old man who wanted to marry her. She refused his proposal.
Unable to stomach the rejection, he harassed her for months.
One day, Laxmi was on her way to Delhi’s Khan Market when the perpetrator and his brother’s girlfriend attacked her with acid.
Laxmi’s battle, and struggle that followed, have inspired hundreds of survivors to get back on their feet and move ahead in life. Laxmi is a ray of hope for those in the dark, and a pillar of strength for those who are broken.
With Chhapaak set to hit the theatres on January 10, 2020, The Logical Indian interviewed Laxmi Agarwal to get a deeper insight into her journey.
Here are some excerpts from the interview:
- With Chhapaak, millions of people are getting to know your story. How do you feel about the film?
I feel great because Chhapaak is in itself a message for society. The film has the potential to have a very powerful impact on people. A lot of survivors will get the courage to fight when they see my character do the same.
Although a lot of people already know my story, cinema is a medium many can connect to. I hope Chhapaak will sensitize people, make them aware of their rights and inspire them to fight.
- Your success in life has inspired many. But tell us about the struggle that ensued after the incident.
I have been struggling ever since I was attacked. But my family and my lawyer, who fought my case free of cost, have been my pillar of strength.
They have been with me through thick and thin, through highs and lows, through heartaches and flings. When I was devastated and did not believe I could move on, they encouraged me to get back up.
My entire family was affected after my attack. Both my father and my brother died after the incident, and my mother and I were left alone.
An attacker attacks once, but society attacks every moment. That life, following the attack, was painful. My only request to the people out there is that even if you can’t make a survivor’s life easy, please don’t make it difficult either.
Society often pushes one to commit suicide. They treat you like a ‘victim’ and not a survivor or a fighter. They give you sympathy instead of support.
It has been a difficult journey but self-love and self-acceptance have helped me move ahead.
- Do you think there have been changes in the system from 2005 to 2019?
After the Nirbhaya case in 2012, a law against acid attack was finally passed in 2013. People were aware of sexual violence, domestic violence, but acid attack was not talked about.
In 2006, I filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) seeking the framing of a new law or amendments to existing laws to deal with the offence.
It is only after acid attack survivors began coming out in the open, started showing their faces, began to fight, that people began getting sensitized, and a law was passed.
The problem that still remains is the slow justice system. Cases stretch forever and people lose hope. Making laws is not enough, they need to be implemented.
The day when the justice system and the government speed up their work, I am certain that people will be afraid to commit such crimes.
- Tell us about your efforts to ban the sale of acids.
In 2013, the Supreme Court created a fresh set of restrictions on the sale of acid.
Although there is a law that allows people to sell acid only if they have a license, and to buy them only if they have a proper ID proof, these harmful substances are still openly sold.
The government has not done its job to ensure that people sell acid only if they have a license. It has not conducted the required drives to ensure that.
Last year I began a campaign called ‘Stop Sale Acid’. As we conducted drives, we found several shops that sell these acids without any license, and surprisingly, the shopkeepers are not even aware of the law that prohibits them from doing so.
These harmful acids, which end up scarring people’s lives, are available at a mere cost of Rs 15-20.
We began going from shop to shop, talking to shopkeepers, trying to educate them about how their products are being wrongly used in society.
Our campaign, our efforts at sensitizing these people, especially the shopkeepers, are bearing fruit now. A number of shops have now stopped the sale of acid.
What we are doing is basically the government’s job. The government should have put more effort into ensuring people’s safety. There are a number of changes that need to be brought about in the system.
- A dialogue in Chhapaak’s trailer goes: “Attack unhi ladkiyon pe hua jo ya to padhna chahti thi ya badhna chahti thi” (only those girls who wished to study and be something in life, are attacked).
I wanted to be a singer when I was young. I wanted to fulfill my dream. That is when I was attacked. This is the case with most women survivors.
I think patriarchy is a reason – it makes people believe that it’s not okay to let a girl taste success and be independent in their life. Men often seem to find it hard to see women moving ahead of them.
Take the case of this woman Preeti Rathi, who was attacked with acid because she, being a girl, was doing better in life than the man who attacked her.
We need to start the battle at home. We must treat our women equally. We must educate kids and make them realise that no one is less than anyone.
- What are your plans for the future?
I will be running my foundation, Laxmi Foundation, where I will be working to sensitize people on equality. I will continue to talk to today’s youth to sensitize them.
I will also keep focusing on rehabilitation of survivors.
- Another dialogue in the trailers says: “Unhone meri surat badli hain, mera mann nahin” (He has scarred my face, not my spirit). Is that something you really told yourself? How do you muster the courage to fight?
There are so many people who love you, and their happiness depends on yours. When you are happy, you end up spreading joy.
When I go to various platforms to talk, I receive a lot of love from people, and that keeps me going. The awards I get push me ahead and make me realise that I have been given the responsibility to keep fighting and succeeding. I realise that I need to bring about a change.
When I was going through a tough time, my father had told me something that still echoes with me: “Is duniya mein aisa koi kaam nahin hain jo namumkin ho” (Nothing you wish to do in this world is impossible).
He told me that one day I will succeed and that I will learn to love this very face of mine. What he told me gives me enormous strength.
My mother too has suffered a lot. She lost her husband and son, her daughter was attacked, yet she is unbreakable. Her spirit gives me courage. I wish to thank her with all my heart.
While I am very optimistic and always hopeful, I am always prepared for the worst. Because difficulties will come, and we must all learn to fight and emerge as heroes.