Monday, March 28, 2016

The Phoenix Rose

Monica Singh
Ten years ago, MoniCa Singh was a promising young student with stars in her eyes and a great life ahead of her. Out of nowhere, an acid attack threw life out of gear for her. This is her story. 

I was in my first year of my degree in apparel designing at the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT), New Delhi. 

A friend of mine had asked me to marry him, leaving my parents, my education and my career. 

I rejected his proposal because I was not willing to do any of that. A girl shouldn’t have to choose or even be compelled to do anything like this!

He called me later when I was driving, and told me to wind my window down, saying that he was close by, and that he wanted to see her. I was in Lucknow, visiting my parents, all of 19. I did as he had asked me, and a motorbike pulled up near my car door. Two men threw acid on my face, and it burned through the seven layers of skin on my face, including the car from inside/out, and scarring my face permanently. I first thought it was a prank and that someone had thrown coffee or a cold drink on me! But slowly, it started burning my skin. It became painful and I started screaming – the burning was indescribable. I was screaming – no, my soul was screaming. I was burning, there were fumes from me, and no one helped.

I tried to drive to the hospital, but my legs gave way, and a passer-by helped me. I almost died from the attack. I was treated like a burn patient, and slept in a cage. It was like I was already in a coffin. My body was completely skinless at some point, and I screamed, begging to be killed because I couldn’t bear it anymore. My father Mahendra Singh, my mother Savita and my brother Nikhil supported me in making my recovery. A year later, I was bound to a wheelchair and moved about independently. My father spent all his life-savings in helping me get treated. I had 46 surgeries. Skin was grafted onto my face from my back.

I was very sure that I would amount to something. I was determined, and I went through college. I got the second highest grade in my entrance exam back then, and Fashion has continued to remain a passion for me. Sadly, my father passed away two years ago before seeing me realise my dream. In January 2014 I was accepted to study fashion marketing at Parsons.    

Being a survivor of chemical injuries, I have a fragile body. After 46 surgeries, my body is very tired and I have to depend on nutritious food for my well being. I have many scars all over my body, but I am not up to showing the world – they can already see that my face to tells a story. Make-up every day is a challenge. Come summer, and I cannot do anything that most other girls can. I wear covered clothing all year around which is for most people is winter wardrobe. I decided I will not be defeated. I decided that I would give my mind attention and gain knowledge, and work to fight all kinds of injustice. Even as a child, as my mother said that I couldn’t stand injustice.

It will be eleven years in June this year. There were five people involved in it, two of whom have past criminal records and have been arrested. Three others are at large, and continue to enjoy their lives, married and settled with kids, even. The judiciary doesn’t listen to these true stories, and it is heart-wrenching that many of us attempt to seek justice but don’t get it. It is not my justice anymore, it is the justice of every woman in society. 95% of the time, acid attacks are a result of rejection of proposals. 5% that remains may be due to multiple reasons. Society blames the women, as always – as if they did something to deserve this!

I was a happy go lucky girl. I didn’t even know such a thing as acid throwing existed. I never did anything to harm or hurt anyone at this level. I never in my wildest dreams imagined that I would go through this. I recently spoke at the United Nations as their global youth champion. It means a lot to me to be able to amplify my voice and be heard. The Mahendra Singh Foundation is soon going to turn one pretty soon. I am building partnerships and collaborations worldwide, to take my work forward.