An NGO is running a crowdfunding campaign to help Sonia get back on her feet.

Gangraped and burned with acid this transgender woman from Hyderabad needs your helpCourtesy: ketto.org
news Gender violence Monday, May 22, 2017 - 19:16

Sonia Sheikh remembers when she agreed to meet Nadeem ‘one last time’ in 2014. “It was the worst decision of my life,” she says in a video interview for Make Love Not Scars, an NGO which supports acid attack survivors. That day, life changed for Sonia. Nadeem and his acquaintances allegedly gangraped Sonia, threw acid on her and as she screamed in unimaginable pain, left her by the roadside.

Sonia is a 24-year-old transgender woman living in Hyderabad. Even though it has been a while since she danced, she still identifies as a dancer. She suffers 54% burns on the right side of her body and lives with her mother and younger sister, both of whom now work to support their family. Despite what she has been through, Sonia wishes to start her own business and put her skills of dancing, cooking, knitting and make-up to professional use.

Sonia’s story

Sonia met Nadeem when she was 20, when the latter took her number at an event she was performing at with other transgender persons. While Nadeem took Sonia’s number on the pretext of a prospective opportunity for performing, he kept calling her incessantly. Ultimately, he confessed that he had taken Sonia’s number as he liked her a lot.

At the time, Sonia was the sole breadwinner for her mother and sister. Her father had passed away when she was seven. Given her responsibilities, falling in love was the last thing on Sonia’s mind. However, Nadeem didn’t back off, and even said that he would take care of Sonia’s family.

Nadeem and Sonia began meeting frequently and became friends. However, Sonia says that he would often show up at her house, where she lived with other members of the transgender community, when she didn’t answer his calls.  He allegedly also contacted other people Sonia knew (including her mother and younger sister), verbally abused them and threatened them to abandon Sonia.

After a year and a half of this, Sonia decided she had had enough. She told Nadeem, “Tum apni jagah raho aur main apni jagah,” (You stay where you belong and I will stay where I belong). Sonia allegedly also lodged a police complaint against him but Nadeem got off with a verbal warning. 

Finally, one day, he called Sonia to apologise, and Sonia was relieved.

But the worst was yet to come. A few days later, Nadeem insisted they meet for one last time. He apparently reached her workplace and waited till she finished. Sonia finally agreed, but when she went to his car, she was startled to see his friend sitting there with him. When she asked Nadeem what his friend was doing there, he told her that they should go to a friend’s farmhouse for a party.

Sonia was hesitant at first but eventually agreed. However, once there, Nadeem allegedly began saying, “You told me so many things in front of your [people from the transgender] community, right? Now sit here, and tell me… who do you think you are, trying to challenge us?” “I was in shock. I thought, ya Allah! Where have I gotten stuck!” Sonia says.

What happened next was something Sonia had not foreseen. She alleges that she was sexually assaulted by Nadeem and his friend for one and a half hours in the car and also at the place where they took her. She alleges that they threatened to kill her as well.

When they raped her, they began driving back into the city. A kilometre away from her home, Sonia tried opening the door to get down from the car. “But the door wasn’t opening. I turned back around and they had prepared everything and come… They threw [acid] on my face,” Sonia alleges. “I was in so much pain that I was kicking the window glass. They kicked me out of the moving car onto the road,” she says.

Sonia called out for help but no one came. So, she somehow made it to her home and fell unconscious. She remembers waking up next in a hospital, and then being questioned by some government officials–including an advocate, she recalls faintly. She alleges that none of them would come close to her.

They asked if Nadeem and his friend had done ‘something else’ other than throwing acid on her. When Sonia told them about the rape, they allegedly said that if she pursued the case, she would also have to serve time because sexual intercourse with the same sex is prohibited in India.

Born into a family with six sisters and two brothers, Sonia had a hard life coming to terms with her gender identity and even finding acceptance. She has also faced a lot of stigma, which prompted her to leave her home at 15, even though her mother accepted her. She didn’t want her family to suffer because of her work as a dancer and her identity as a transgender woman.

Sonia now wishes to run a business to be self-dependent and to provide for her family. Make Love Not Scars is running a crowdfunding campaign for the same on ketto.org. You can access the campaign here

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