Laxmi Agarwal, hailing from New Delhi, India, was just 15 years old when her life took a horrifying turn. A 32-year-old man, the brother of a school friend, wanted to marry her. After Laxmi refused him, the man threw acid on her face. Today, the 26-year-old still remembers it vividly: “It felt cold first. Then I felt an intense burning. Then the liquid melted my skin.” It’s only because she instinctively threw her arms in front of her face that she managed to save her eyesight.
The poor girl spent 10 weeks in the hospital where she suffered painful skin-grafting surgeries. But while her scars slowly healed, the reaction she received from the outside world caused her more pain: “My own family didn’t want to see me anymore, even my friends,” she remembers. “I stayed at home for eight years and only trusted myself to go out if I was completely covered. And the perpetrator received a one month caution and then was completely free again. I looked for a job but nobody wanted to have me. They said: ‘People would get scared when they see you.'”
Over time, Laxmi got to know other acid attack victims. Such attacks occur often in India, mostly in the form of revenge acts from men or disputes over the suggested dowry. Around 1000 cases are registered every year, but the actual figure is much higher, because many of the victims won’t report the attacker out of fear or shame. Laxmi has stepped in for these victims: she fights as an activist against the free sale of acid and for harder punishment for acid attackers.