Monday, August 1, 2016

Fighting Strong

Rekha, an acid attack victim, has undergone six surgeries. She wants to get better soon and help other survivors. Here is her story.

I belong to the village of Guttal in the Ranebennur Taluk of Haveri district in Karnataka. My parents were agricultural labourers, but my mother was not able to go for work much as she had developed some mental disorders. My father was an alcoholic.

We were three siblings – myself, my elder brother and elder sister. Growing up in a family like ours, we had to fend for ourselves and none of us could finish school. We started odd jobs – whatever came our way.

Soon my sister got married and I too got married. I had one daughter with my husband, but my marriage was far from happy. We decided to get separated and I had to find work again. 
I had moved to Bangalore from my village in Haveri, Karnataka. I was all set to work in a garment factory to support my family and my daughter, who was two and a half years old by then. We had named her Sinchana and I like to call her Sinchu with love.

 I was staying with my colleague, and got into a relationship with his brother, who was a cab driver. Initially, he accepted me and Sinchu and we got married at a local temple. Life was good for some time, but my new partner would also drink sometimes, which I did not like. He loved someone earlier and she left him, which made him turn to drinks. This also made him very possessive of me, and we began to have fights over small issues – especially whenever I said I wanted to go home and meet my family. He would beat me sometimes, but we would also play around like couples on other occasions.
Early in the morning on what the world marks as the International Day of Non-Violence, October 2, in 2013, I faced a shocking and gruesome form of violence.I remember that morning as if it were yesterday. My partner would often surprise me and wake me up by sprinkling drops of water on me. But I realised that this time, it wasn’t water!

I realised that he had poured concentrated acid on my head, when I was still in bed. Shocked by the burning sensation, I got up and sought help from my partner, but he pushed me away. I found out later that he too suffered minor burns on his hands when I pleaded with him to help me.
I started running down the stairs in agony. The acid quickly burnt my scalp, ears, parts of my face, and my hands.I shouted for help but no one came to help me. Perhaps they were stunned by the smoke emanating from my body. I ran to my brother, who worked as a watchman at a building nearby and told him that something bad had happened to me. It was he who took me to the Victoria Hospital, the government hospital in Bangalore.

I was admitted to the government hospital in Bangalore. As per procedure, the police took my statement at the hospital. The doctors washed my burns and gave me first aid and then they discharged after a few days. Meanwhile, the police had arrested my partner, based on my statement at the hospital.

I went back to my village in Haveri and was admitted at a district hospital there, where they continued to dress my wounds, but they did not have the facilities or trained doctors to treat me. My right eye was infected badly and was swollen. The skin around my neck and elbows had begun contracting and I couldn’t move them my head or my hands. The doctors at the district hospital told me that only specialised surgeons at a private hospital can treat me, but without money, I could not get admission in a private hospital, so they sent me back to the government hospital in Bangalore.
All this while, I received no help from my partner or his family. They were trying to get him out on bail and they demanded that I go to a lawyer and told me to change my statement and say that I poured acid on myself. They said they would help me get treatment at a good hospital, if I do so. Having lost all hope of getting better, I agreed to their idea and they took me to meet a lawyer in Bangalore. But the lawyer looked at my condition drove them out of his office, shouting at my partner’s family to help me first.

This single incident gave me more strength to fight back! I refused to help them after this and was determined to get justice.

Rekha and her daughter
Finally, in April 2014 – six months after the attack – I was admitted to a private hospital in Bangalore, with the help of Make Love Not Scars (MLNS), an NGO which works for acid attack victims. When I was still at the government hospital, the social workers there introduced me to acid attack survivor Haseena Hussain and it was she who put me in touch with MLNS. Volunteers from MLNS visited me at the government hospital in February 2014 and started raising funds for my treatment. Together with Haseena Akka (elder sister), they shifted me to the private hospital once they raised Rs 1 lakh from different donors.

Doctors at the private hospital first operated on my eyes to save me from infection and reconstructed my eyelids. Thankfully, I can see from both eyes now, although the vision in my right eye is blurred. It took six surgeries for the doctors to release the contractures on my hands and neck and create an opening where my nose once was, so that I can breathe easily.In the last two years, I have had several painful surgeries and I am thankful that I can now move my hands, turn my head and breathe through my nose.

 Every surgery is painful as the doctors take normal skin from my legs or hands and graft it on to the wounded and deformed skin. But with each surgery, I get new hope of getting back to normal again. The doctors have also custom-made a plastic nose for me and the nose is attached to a pair of spectacles that I can wear.

With lot of time on my hands, I began writing poetry at the hospital after an MLNS volunteer gifted me a diary and a pen. I write about my life, my experiences and how I have been helped by people who don’t even know me.
ಹನಿ ಹನಿ ಆಸೆ
ಹಕ್ಕಿಗೆ ಹಾರುವ ಆಸೆ
ನೀರಿಗೆ ಹರಿಯುವ ಆಸೆ
ಕೋಗಿಲೆಗೆ ಕೂಗುವ ಆಸೆ
ನವಿಲಿಗೆ ಕುಣಿಯುವ ಆಸೆ
ಪೆನ್ನಿಗೆ ಬರೆಯುವ ಆಸೆ
ಮೋಬ್ಯೆಲ್ಗೆ ನಿಮಗೆ ಕರೆ ಮಾಡುವ ಆಸೆ
ನನಗೆ ನಿಮ್ಮ ಎಲ್ಲರ ಪ್ರೀತಿಯ ಆಸೆ

Little Desires
Birds wish to fly
The river simply wants to flow
The cuckoo bird yearns to sing
And the peacock loves to dance
Pens just want to write
My mobile phone longs to call you people
And I wish for just your love and affection

As I look back now, I think I must thank my brother, who has been with me throughout all my pain and suffering, although he had to take breaks from his job. Next, I must thank Haseena Akka and volunteers from MLNS, without whom I could never have been where I am today.

ಶ್ರೇಷ್ಥ ಪ್ರೀತಿ
ಕೋಟಿ ರೂಪಾಯಿ ಕೊಟ್ಟರೂ ಸಿಗದು
ತಾಯಿಯ ಮಮತೆ
ಲಕ್ಷ ರೂಪಾಯಿ ಕೊಟ್ಟರೂ ಸಿಗದು
ತಂದೆಯ ವಾತ್ಸಲ್ಯ
ಸಾವಿರ ರೂಪಾಯಿ ಕೊಟ್ಟರೂ ಸಿಗದು
ನಿಮ್ಮಂತ ಅಕ್ಕ ಅಣ್ಣಂದಿರ ಪ್ರೀತಿ

Priceless Love
Even if you give crores of rupees, you won't get
Mother's love
Lakhs of rupees won't get you
Father's affection
Even if I give thousands of rupees
I won't get love and affection from sisters and brothers like you

While I was undergoing surgeries at the private hospital, my daughter Sinchana, who has now turned four,had stayed with my sister in Haveri. Between surgeries I would go back to my village and another moment of pain for me was when my daughter did not recognise me. With a heavy heart, I understood that she’s still a child and needs some time to start accepting me. Now, as my face looks more ‘normal’, she has started calling me Amma (mother) again and she enjoys playing with me. Initially, my sister took care of Sinchana, but now, she has now been admitted to a charitable residential school in Bangalore with help from MLNS. I hope that my daughter’s life can be much better than how mine has been. I hope she studies well and gets a good job.

I had to face another moment of sadness when both my parents died in May 2014 back in my village and I could not go and meet them, because I was still undergoing surgeries. Again, I have to thank my brother for performing their last rites.

While I do often feel sad about many things that happened in my life over the last two years, there have been moments of happiness too. I felt happy when my attacker was denied bail at the lower court and at the High Court. Now, our case is in the final stages of trial at the fast-track court and I am hopeful that my attacker is convicted and that truth and justice will win.

I also felt happy when, after almost two years, I was able to stretch my arms fully and turn my head. Now, I look forward to the next few surgeries to reconstruct my nose. I know it will be painful, but I also know that I can fight the pain. I can fight and win.
ನೀವು ಸೋತೆಯೆಂದು ಸುಮ್ಮನೆಇರಬೇಡಿ
ನನ್ನತರಗೆಲುವುದಕ್ಕೆ ಮುಂದೆ ಬನ್ನಿ
ನೀವು ಬಿದ್ದೇನುಎಂದು ಭಯ ಪಡಬೇಡಿ
ಗೆದ್ದು ಮುಂದೆ ಬನ್ನಿ
Don't sit idle if you have failed in your life
Come forward in life, to win like me
Don't be scared that you have fallen in life
If you've fallen in life, win and lead in your life