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.
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.