These 5 Indian Women Redefined the Power of Will
It was a hot day and was a holiday for us three friends who were casually walking the busy streets near Taj Mahal, Agra, India. Out of the choices of McDonalds, KFC and Dominos to have lunch, we decided to go to Sheroes at the suggestion a shop keeper who informed that they have no prices on the menu and you can give whatever you feel like the food is worthy of.
Being overjoyed at the idea of having food and paying what we felt like, we climbed the steps of a tucked in restaurant adorned with graffiti that pictured images of women’s faces, and that was pretty odd.
A new world welcomed us!
A severely scarred woman greeted us with a smile. We couldn’t respond at the sight of this woman which gave us shocks. Her face was burnt to an extent it was both frightening and sad to look at.
Sometimes life can be real hard. But it is when we look at some other lives we understand how easy we got it and made it so far. I want you to meet some women of India who have redefined the power of will and courage. These women showed the world, not matter what, they will survive and will never be under siege. Instead of succumbing to a life of hiding they have decided to lead a normal and respectable life and go to work.
With the help of an NGO called Chaanv Foundation and supporters of the Stop Acid Attack network, they now run the Sheroes café in Agra very close to the Taj Mahal. Sheroes Hangout is a café near the Taj Mahal, Agra, which is run by five women who have all survived acid attacks.
In this café 5 women, all survivors of acid attacks are starting their day by getting ready to wait the tables and to cook in the kitchen upstairs. More than the gratification of earning a living these women now has the confidence and courage to show their faces in public after being disfigured.
And there is another side to the picture
If customers of this café have not met an acid scarred person before, this is their chance. It helps to create awareness among people against this heinous crime. Pictures of women’s faces adorn the walls of this café.
“Our focus is to educate people about the consequences of acid attacks”, says Alok dixit, the founder of Stop Acid Attacks, the Delhi based NGO, which opened in December last year.
The café with its non priced menu attracted more than 5,000 customers in the first six months which reflects an attitude shift to acid attack survivors and to the crime itself in India, which documented more than 310 cases in 2014.
Neetu Mahour at the Sheroes Cafe – Source: WSJ
From behind the front desk counter of Sheroes, a severely scarred 23 year old Neetu Mahour, clad in a white shirt with the slogan ‘ Stop Acid Attacks’ greets customers with new hope. Her father threw acid on her face 20 years ago, left her almost blind and forced her to quit school. Her infant sister died in the attack and her severely injured mother, Geetha now works in the café along with Neetu.
Geetha Mahour in the Kitchen of Sheroes Cafe- Source: WSJ
Sheroes has brought her back to public and to life itself.
The 5 women who run the café share similar nightmarish histories, and now want to give comfort and confidence to similar victims across the country.
Ritu Saini 20 was attacked by her cousin when she was 17 years old when she rejected his romantic advances. Even after 10 painful reconstructive surgeries, she lost her left eye and is left with burnt marks all over her face.
Ritu Saini is the Manager of Sheroes Cafe – Source: WSJ
“I used to cover my face all the time, I want to know why he did this to me”, says Ritu. She is the manager of the café and walks in public showing her face and encourages other women to do the same. She is now learning English and is ready to forget and says now she does not care why he did this to her.
As we were coming down the steps of Sheroes, we couldn’t help looking back, Our thought process was changed forever. Wiping off the tears that rolled in our eyes we pledged that we will be back to Sheroes.
Life goes on for these women; they are chasing their dreams, even though their dreams were crushed at the prime of their lives, these women stares at the community with their power of will and hope, not despair.