It wasn’t without trepidation that I went to meet the victims of Acid Attack. I have never before seen such horror. Will I be able to maintain my composure in front of these women, who bear their scars so well? Would I behave inappropriately, and stare, trying to come to terms with acts that I can’t begin to imagine?
Their stories belie the cordial image of India; they show people so far removed from empathy toward their fellow man that they might as well be standing on the moon. The ‘reasons’ (as if there can be any) boggle the mind. ‘He said he loved me, he asked me to marry him, I refused, so he threw acid on my face’; ‘I don’t know who, or why, poured acid on me while I was sleeping’; ‘my in-laws were trying to hang my sister from the fan, and when I tried to stop them, they poured acid on my face’.
So I went, on my white horse, all ready to teach them how to say no, all ready to teach them self-defense.
I was wrong.
These women were attacked because they said no.
When I tried to teach them self-defense, they fell over laughing. At first, at how ridiculously simple it was. (I also re-iterated that when you can’t see your attacker, or trust your attacker completely, there IS no defense. Sometimes, there just is no defense.) And then they laughed when I taught them to get out of a grab hold of both their wrists. I’d teach them, then hold onto their wrists tight, and say, ‘go on, get out of my grip’, and they’d say, we don’t want to. We like it like this. (Why does this always happen to me?) Then fall over laughing.
I was curious. Are you happy? ‘Now we are’ they said. There was this moment where they had been obeying their parents, their husband, obeying, obeying, not venturing out of the house because they weren’t allowed to do so, obeying, obeying, and this happened?! Somewhere inside, something snapped, and they said, ‘f*ck this sh!t, now I am going to do exactly what I please’. Now they are happy.
Do you think you are beautiful? Most raised their hands. Except for one, let’s call her A. Do you not think you are beautiful, I pressed her. She looked down at the ground. Do you love yourself? ‘What, like physically?’ she asked. So, no. Do you think you are a good person? I mustn’t be. That’s why I was attacked. She wouldn’t raise her eyes to look at anyone, wouldn’t say no, wouldn’t fight to protect herself. We all noticed.
On the second day, I was teaching them how to defend themselves from a slap, and so pleased were the women with the new techniques, they came complaining to me. ‘Ma’am, no one is slapping me! This is not fair’. With the basic elements of Aikido, they darn near broke each other’s wrists. A got herself out of a wrist hold, everyone noticed, everyone applauded her first effort in even wanting to defend herself.
Oh, and – by ‘horrifying faces’ I don’t mean the women; they are beautiful. I mean the men who can fathom committing such heinous acts. Like Voldemort who left a scar of his attack on little Harry Potter’s face, so did these men leave the mark of their horrible self on these women.
I think I realized my first day that I cannot teach these women anything. They don’t need teaching. As Chetna Gala Sinha, a fellow Ashoka fellow once said, ‘the women don’t need help; the men do – help them!’
My three days with these women tells me they are not Acid Attack Victims. They are Acid Attack Victors.