Monalisa Das| The News Minute| June 29, 2014| 9.00 am IST
It is on Saturday evening that I finally get to speak to Rupa. We speak in Hindi and her accent reminds me of a classmate from Delhi. It is funny how your brain skips from one point to another totally unconnected one in an instant.
I introduce myself; Rupa knows why I am talking to her. We exchange pleasantries after which we talk about her latest endeavor and her aim in life- stitching clothes. Rupa, a 21-year-old, is a talented designer currently working on her own designs and would like to open her own boutique some day.
When she opens up to me, I inquire about ‘the’ incident and ask her if she’d like to talk about it.
And then she unfolds, what for me was the most horrific account of a crime from the victim herself.
Rupa is an acid attack victim and also a survivor.
She hails from Uttar Pradesh. After her mother passed away while giving birth to her brother, her father remarried. Her step mother, she says, tortured her night and day; beating both the siblings, cursing them, make them do all the household chores was a daily routine.
For a brief period of time after her mother’s demise Rupa lived with her uncle in Delhi. Rupa’s grandmother had left some money and property for her that could be used during her marriage some day. However, when her parents got to know of this, they brought her back from Delhi and eventually got everything transferred in the name of her “doosri mummy”.
They had to leave school too. She also alleges that the woman had also tried to kill both the siblings by giving them poisoned tea.“I never complained to anyone, because I thought even my real mother would have reprimanded me if I did a mistake. But I knew I was just a house help to her”, she says with a certain ache in her voice; like she is trying to remember what she or her mother looked like.
One late night in 2008, Rupa’s life changed forever. Her stepmother poured acid on her face while she was sleeping following some tensions between them. The rest went by in a blur- her screaming as if her whole body was on fire, running out for help, hitting herself against walls. She came across a sadhu (hermit), who initially beat her up thinking she was crazy. He then helped her. She was taken to the nearest hospital only 6 hours later from where she was shifted to the Safdarjung hospital in Delhi.
An FIR was lodged against her mother, but her father threatened to not pay for her treatment if she took his wife’s name. Rupa was determined this time, even at the cost of her life. An FIR was filed and the woman went to jail for 2 years.
And then while she was in the hospital, she met people who would turn out to be her real saviours.
Today, Rupa is more confident about herself. She tells me that she goes out more often, and interacts with people. All because of Chhanv, an organisation that works towards the rehabilitation of acid attack victims. The organisation is part of the Stop Acid Attacks, a campaign against acid attack violence.
And for the first time during the entire conversation, I hear her voice tremble and I know she’s weeping, with sadness, with gratitude, a mixture of emotions. “They (people at Chhanv) support me always. They will do anything to see me happy”, she says with a certain pride.
Rupa loves to stitch, and Chhanv is helping her do just that. They are also trying to collect funds to set up a shop for her. She has now designed a few clothes and the reviews have enthused her.
We talk about her other things for some time. She likes to eat chhole or rajma occassionaly, and she knows how to cook. But, ever since coming here, there is hardly any time to go to the kitchen, she says shyly accepting that she is losing touch with cooking. She mentions her roommates Laxmi didi and Ritu. She is not alone anymore. She has got a stable home now, a purpose in life.
I tell her that I liked talking to her. “”Mujhe bhi accha laga” (I felt good too). Once in a while it feels good to share your feelings with others”, she says. I do not have anything to offer her. My words can never begin to describe what it feels to be her. What happened 6 years ago, she may never be able to forget it, but Rupa has managed to put it past her for now. She refuses to be a victim and is relentlessly working towards her goals.
Later in the evening, she would get back to doing some more stitching; there seems to be a lot of work.
As we are about to hang up, she asks me for my name again. I say it. She repeats, Mona-lika, I say it is Mona-lisa, spelling out the S. She gets it right this time and breaks into an unreserved, jovial laughter.