Guest Post by Abhay Chawla (journalist) on his 1st meeting with Sonali:

This was the moment I was dreading, coming face to face with her. I tried to mentally prepare myself for the meeting. From the photograph I had seen in the newspapers, I knew Sonali was badly burnt due to the acid attack on her but a flesh and blood meeting is different. Could she see? Could she hear properly? What would I say when I saw her? Where would I look while talking to her? These and other questions were running through my mind.

Sonali came into my life one morning recently, in the form of a story run by a major news channel. When she had been 18 years old, three boys in her locality in Dhanbad had thrown acid on her face. It was nine years since the day of the attack. The boys had been arrested and later freed on bail and the court case still dragged on. Meanwhile Sonali’s life came to an abrupt halt as did the life of her family. 22 surgeries later she is still nowhere with no governmental or organized help coming her way.Instinctively, I knew I had to do something for her. The best I could immediately do was to set up a Facebook group and appeal for monetary assistance. I figured relief and rehabilitation was the first task and for that money was important. This would ensure her surgeries carried on, and somehow I felt that it would show Sonali that people of the country cared and that she was not alone. By evening that day “Help Sonali Mukherjee from Dhanbad” group was 500 people strong and growing. Donations had also started coming in with people messaging their support and contribution.The next day I walked into the temple in south Delhi where she was staying. As I had already spoken to her she was expecting me. Sitting alone on a cot in a small shed at the rear of the temple she was staring at empty space. “Sonali!” I called out loud with gusto. “Bhaiya!” she answered in an equally upbeat tone, smiling and looking in my direction. For a girl who had gone through so much in such a short span of time, she was extremely cheerful and positive. We didn’t know each other, had never met earlier but we connected. Was it because of an earlier life connection, I wondered.

I looked at her and I think I was staring. The acid had eaten both her eyes and one external ear. Her face was being reconstructed with plastic surgeries. Besides this her hands and neck also bore the marks of the attack. Looking at her I felt anger and frustration with the system for not being able to ameliorate her suffering or to give her any justice. I felt miserable on seeing that in a big city like Delhi she didn’t even have a decent place to stay, and in spite of her story narrated by a prominent TV channel no organisation, corporate or individual had stepped forward to give her even a comfortable accommodation.

We talked and the conversation was easy. She told me of the various surgeries she went through and how she progressed since the day of her attack. The number of people she met and the assurances she received. I steered clear of the attackers lest old wound reopen, but told her about my innumerable students who had expressed sympathy and shared their pocket money. She seemed to lapse into deep thought. “I am so happy you came and when you tell me about sympathy and support from people, I feel energetic and want to continue my fight to live.” she whispered back.

It has been over a week. Donations are trickling in as are assurances and media people. She still has to get a decent accommodation or a proper road map for rehabilitation and a future. Meanwhile, a proposal to make acid attack a separate criminal offence punishable by a maximum of ten years and compensation for the acid attack victims by the government has been approved by the Union Cabinet. It is still a long way from being incorporated as a law and then we will have to see how the law is enforced. But the first baby step has been taken.

Comments
  1. sushma says:

    I saw this on sony television on crime branch. Its a very shameful thing from our judges on whom we can’t rely for justice, from our govt. The boys should be given rigorous life time imprisonment. If the judge wants bribe will all indian’s will remove atl east 1rupee each which will be a handsomely paid bribe for the judge to give orders. Shameless police and govt. People coming from pakistan get free aid and all special medical care but we nothing !!! Kasab getting best security , care and we? Travelling in trains is also become so scary !!! U never know. By all thz we can clearly make out that our govt wants criminals and no humans. Humanity has lost

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