In Agra, India, one mile from the breathtaking Taj Mahal something just as magnificent is taking place. Sheroes Hangout is a café where women who have been maimed in acid attacks work—and heal.
In 2014, there were a reported 309 acid attacks where men purposely threw acid in the faces of women to scar them. Often the reason involves the rejection of a marriage proposal. As barbaric as it sounds until 2013 it was difficult to even prosecute the attackers because of archaic laws and prejudice toward women.
Alok Dixit, first confronted the horror of acid attacks as a journalist, and soon became a fulltime crusader for the victims when he founded ‘Stop Acid Attacks’ in 2013. He realized well that in India, a person bearing the scars of an acid attack is typically shunned and finding employment is virtually impossible. Thus the idea of Sheroes Hangout was born. The business, launched by ‘Stop Acid Attacks’ in 2014 served over 5,000 customers in the first six months of its existence and has continued to grow since then. Here, these survivors are empowered to leave the shadows of shame and learn to embrace life again. Here, these remarkable women are free to develop new skills—both personal and professional. And here, society learns to see facial and body scars as signs of courage and perseverance.
And as if this story couldn’t get more inspirational, in his quest for justice, Alok found love. He met Laxmi, a television host and advocate for acid attack survivors. She had survived such an assault herself at the tender age of 15 when a man more than twice her age threw her to the ground and splashed acid on her face and arms after she rejected his marriage proposal. Alok and Laxmi have been inseparable ever since, and welcomed a baby girl into the world in 2014.
This couple continues to challenge the legal and social systems of India for greater justice, and in 2014 Laxmi was given the International Women of Courage award.
Change in India is slow, but progress is being made. Since 2013, it has become illegal to buy acid over the counter, victims of acid attacks now receive free medical attention, and acid attackers can be sentenced to up to ten years in prison.
Alok Dixit and Laxmi remind us all that there is nothing more beautiful than goodness, and their courage and love inspire not just India, but the world.
He is a hero, and she a SHEro, you should know! And I’m Dr. Ross Porter.