Dependent on her family since the attack, Sonia who lives in Hyderabad is determined to start her own business so that she can take care of them now.

Hope for Sonia Gang raped and attacked with acid court orders compensation for trans woman Ketto
news Compensation Saturday, June 10, 2017 - 21:27

Two years after she was subjected to a horrific gangrape and acid attack, Sonia Sheikh – a transgender woman from Hyderabad – will finally receive compensation from the government. On Friday, a Magistrate Court in Telangana ordered the District Legal Services Authority (DLSA) to initiate the compensation process for Sonia.

The compensation, which is expected to reach her this month, will be an immense financial relief to Sonia and her family, who have been struggling against significant economic difficulties.

The horrible attack on her in May 2015 robbed Sonia – who supported her family by dancing at events – of her only source of income.

Since then, she has been dependent on her 65-year-old mother, who works as an attendant in a local madrassa. "My father is no more. Since I can't even go out, my younger sister took up a job of working at someone's house," she says.

These meagre salaries are what support Sonia, her mother and her four sisters, who live together in a rented house.

The attack didn't just impact her, but took a toll on her entire family. Even though she was initially treated in a government hospital, there were multiple other expenses to take care of besides the time and energy her family put into taking care of her. But Sonia's family has stood firmly with her throughout.

"I used to be the breadwinner of the house, but for nearly two years I have been fully dependent on my family. Now, I want to support them," Sonia says, full of determination to overcome the devastating aftermath of the attack.

Reminiscing about her old life, Sonia says, "I used to be beautiful back then. I could dance and earn and provide for my family. I can't do that anymore. But I want to start my own business now. I want run a salon and start earning again. My family has looked after me for long. Now it's my turn."

"She cannot go out in the sun because her skin will burn. But she cannot be sitting in the house either. She does not have the luxury to do that," says Vyjayanti Vasanta Mogli, a corporate professional and a founder member of Telangana Hijra Intersex Transgender Samity.

Vyjayanti and a group of their friends have been helping Sonia seek legal and medical help.

On the medical front, Sonia has undergone three surgeries, but will require two more surgeries before she can return to a fully functional life.

"The first surgery is usually a life-saving one and not a cosmetic or reconstructive one. But even after the first operation she was not able to chew food, and could only consume liquids through a straw. She wasn't able to close her eyelids. How can a person sleep without closing their eyelids? After the next two surgeries, she’s at least been able to close her eyelids, but still has problems chewing," Vyjayanti says.

While Sonia is yet to receive a copy of the Magistrate's order, and hence does not know how much compensation she will receive, she is likely to get a minimum compensation of at least Rs 3 lakh.

Three SC judgments – i.e. Laxmi vs Union of India, Parivartan Kendra vs Union of India, Ravada Sasikala vs State of Andhra Pradesh – have laid down some basic guidelines for governments to compensate acid attack survivors, explains Vyjayanthi.

Firstly, survivors are to be given a minimum of Rs 3 lakh as compensation for the trauma caused to them. Secondly, this is in addition to the cost of reconstructive surgeries required by the survivor, which cost has to be borne by the government. And thirdly, the government needs to ensure that survivors receive the necessary training and job opportunities to become financially independent.

But most acid attack victims are women who come from poor families and are not aware of the law. And private hospitals take advantage of this ignorance, says Vyjayanthi.

For instance, she says, private hospitals cannot ask survivors to pay for their surgeries.

"But the poor do not know that they don't have to pay. They just have to tell the hospital to claim it from Arogyashree or the Telangana Acid Attack Victims Compensation Fund. But private hospitals don't want to run around to get their own money from the government. It is too much of a hassle for them. So, they choose to play on the ignorance of the victims and their families," she says.

In Sonia’s case, a doctor at a well-known hospital in Hyderabad allegedly gave them a quotation for her surgeries. When they approached the DLSA, the body promptly served a notice on the doctor. However, Sonia then chose a different hospital, fearing a vengeful reaction from the doctor.

Some of Sonia’s treatment has been funded by an online crowdfunding campaign launched by the NGO Make Love Not Scars, which works with acid attack survivors. However, the campaign has so far only been able to raise a small part of the necessary funds so far.

Those interested, can check out the campaign for Sonia here.

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