In 2001, Dr YN Mahalakshmi was attacked with acid by her stalker. After 25 reconstructive surgeries, she continues to practise medicine, and has been on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic in Mysuru.

Dr YN Mahalakshmi
Features Human interest Thursday, July 01, 2021 - 17:13

The Agrahara Old Primary Health Centre (PHC) in Mysuru’s Chamaraja Double Road has various posters stuck on the door informing people of COVID-19 vaccines and the importance of getting vaccinated. Leading the PHC’s vaccination drive is Dr YN Mahalakshmi, a COVID-19 warrior and an acid attack survivor.

It’s been over 20 years since she was attacked and on National Doctors’ Day, Dr Mahalakshmi, Administrative Medical Officer of the PHC, recalls how she, as a woman, an acid attack survivor and a COVID-19 warrior, has been fighting against all odds. “I can narrate the acid attack incident as if it happened yesterday, I can never forget what happened on January 11, 2001,” Dr Mahalakshmi says.

She was running her clinic from a rented space that belonged to one Chikkabasavaiah, who sexually harassed her. Despite rejecting his advances, Chikkabasavaiah continued to harass the doctor who was 26 years old at the time. She then filed a police complaint against him and relocated her clinic to a different part of the city. Chikkabasavaiah, however, continued to stalk and harass her. On the evening of January 11, 2001, around 8 pm, when Dr Mahalakshmi was returning from her clinic, Chikkabasavaiah threw acid on her face.

Since then, Dr Mahalakashmi has undergone around 25 reconstructive surgeries besides fighting a legal battle against Chikkabasavaiah. He was first acquitted by the District Sessions Court for lack of evidence, but was later convicted by the Karnataka High Court in 2012, who sentenced him to three years imprisonment.

“Acid attacks are one of the most devastating social crimes against women. Accepting disabilities and trying to lead a normal life is not easy. Facing society without fear is something I have learnt after everything that happened,” she says.

Even though Dr Mahalakshmi’s life drastically changed after the attack, she chose to continue to practice medicine. “I’m grateful to be a doctor and serve the needy,” Dr Mahalakshmi says.

An alumnus of Mysore Medical College, Dr Mahalakshmi believes that education and her profession as a doctor helped her get through the life-changing ordeal. “Education is important to fight every kind of injustice against women. The perpetrator should feel ashamed for committing the crime and not the victim. Bringing survivors to the mainstream, and encouraging them is very important.”

“You have to fight for justice, for everything in life, and if you’re a woman, it’s not an easy fight,” Dr Mahalakshmi adds.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Dr Mahalakshmi like many of her peers and other frontline workers has been working tirelessly without taking a day’s leave. As a government doctor, she has been at the forefront of treating COVID-19 patients and now with cases coming down, she has been part of the district administration’s efforts in vaccinating citizens.

COVID-19 has caused the fight for social issues to take a back seat. “Pandemic has affected everybody. Yes, verdicts might be delayed, and the fight may be delayed, but we should learn to live with COVID-19 with patience because it’s not going anywhere,” Dr Mahalakshmi says.

On National Doctors’ Day, she says that it is her health has gotten her through her many battles. 

“ As a doctor, one of the first things that got me through all the fights is my health. It’s not just physical health, but mental health too. Taking care of one’s mental health is of utmost importance to fight. It’s not easy but it’s worth it,” says Dr Mahalakshmi.

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