Since a rejected suitor threw acid in her face at age 15, activist Laxmi has campaigned to stop violence against Indian women. This week in London she will walk a catwalk to raise awareness in the United Kingdom.
The Guardian reports that over the last decade, acid attacks against women have almost doubled. The British Asian Trust and the Global Fund for Women have organized a fashion show with the aim of drawing attention to the perils women face in their day-to-day lives. Laxmi, now 28, will participate, as well as British woman Adele Bellis. Bellis survived an acid attack in 2014 machinated by a former partner.
Laxmi tells The Guardian that she had not previously imagined that this form of violence against women would occur to such an extent in the U.K.
“When I found out this was happening...I was really surprised because I thought of course crimes would exist in a country like [India], but I never thought something like this would exist. I was really shocked,” she said.
The man who perpetrated the attack against Laxmi was the 32-year-old brother of friends. He stalked Laxmi for 10 months, insisting that she marry him and becoming violent in response to her rejections. Determined to mete out more brutal revenge, he eventually sought out Laxmi in a Dehli marketplace and poured acid on her face. He was not imprisoned until 2009 and will only serve 10 years.
Laxmi, meanwhile, was confined to the hospital for two and a half months following the attack to receive treatment for the burns on her face and arms. She has undergone seven operations, costing in total 22,000 pounds (roughly 29,000 USD). She was responsible for the entirety of the expense — family and friends paid for her treatments.
In the same year, Laxmi lost her brother and her father, and she regards both deaths as connected to her stalker’s attack. She believes her brother, who died of tuberculosis, did not receive the necessary treatment to save his life because the family was preoccupied with her. Her father’s fatal heart attack she attributes to stress engendered by the attack and its aftermath.
This suffering motivated Laxmi to act on the behalf of all women who are vulnerable to abuse and assault. In 2013, her organization, Stop Acid Attacks, fought successfully for legislation dictating that all acid attack treatment will be paid for by the government.
Furthermore, Laxmi encourages all women who have survived rape and assault to refuse victimization and instead stand in solidarity against misogynist violence.
“The world will automatically turn you into a victim and victimize you,” she says. “I would say instead of having a mentality that makes you feel like a victim, become a fighter and become a voice for the people who are going through these things. So you can strengthen those who are going through violence.”