Soni grew up in Mirzapur in UP, about three hours away from her marital home. In November 2005 she made this journey along with her new husband, the start of what she hoped would be a simple, happy married life. In the next two years, it became increasingly apparent to her that this dream was never going to be her reality. She was isolated in this new environment, constantly abused physically and verbally by her husband and in-laws. Soni’s parents were only aware that she was not happy. Despite returning to her home frequently, she never told her parents the whole truth about her abuse but even Soni could never have imagined the heinous things her in-laws were capable of. On 25th March 2008 her husband and his parents waited for her to come home and attacked her with acid so that she might die an agonizing, brutal death.
At the time of marriage, Soni’s husband had asked for a substantial dowry and her father had complied. As soon as they were married the in-laws began complaining that the things that they had received were not up to the mark. In the next two years the in-laws grew more and more aggressive in their demands on Soni’s family. Soni continued to bring things from home with the hope that this would satiate them but she received only contempt and further humiliation.Soni’s father had 4 daughters. He had a hard time keeping up with their demands but he was willing to sacrifice for the sake of his daughter’s happiness. Soni’s new family had no such desires of peace.
At some point the in laws and Soni’s husband decided that they must kill Soni so that her father would have no option but to hand over her entire inheritance to her husband. Three human beings decided amongst themselves to shut out any instinct towards compassion or pity and take this individual’s life in the most gruesome, torturous way they could devise. They threw a bucket of acid at her face, thinking it would finish her. It ate away her skin and bones, took away her sight, changed her appearance forever, but it did not kill her. Her screams of agony alerted the neighbours. They flooded the house and there was clamour that she must be taken to the hospital. The husband quickly urged that they take her to a nearby clinic, for here the doctor was their accomplice and would ensure that she did not survive.
Spending 8 days in this malicious clinic was just one of the many hurdles that she faced on the road to recovery. Her sister grew suspicious of the situation when she saw her sister get worse instead of better. It became clear that something was very wrong when the husband and his entire family disappeared without a trace. Soni’s sister, in a blind rage, confronted the doctor and he revealed that the husband had indicated to him that Soni should not recover from her injuries. They quickly shifted her to a government hospital in Mirzapur where the doctors, seeing her condition took her in with much reluctance. The truth still had to wait to be revealed, however. Soni was unconscious for 2 weeks. When she finally gained consciousness, she immediately testified. Her father was now faced with a difficult decision. Should he shift Soni to the hospital in Banaras like the doctors were recommending or should he pursue the attackers and bring them to justice like the police advised. He decided to go after the absconding family. It was a prolonged process then to get her to Banaras where she would have nearly all her surgeries.
Soni recalls the long road to regaining her vision. Soni’s family did not even realise for a time that it would be possible for her to see again. This news gave her hope that she might still have a life worth living. Many plastic surgeries followed. She had plates put in her jaw and the doctors worked hard to fix her spine where she had suffered excessive corrosion. In 2010, her father died at the age of 54. From then on, financing the surgeries got much harder. Her expression grows hard when she talks about the false promises of aid made to her family by ministers. Her sisters and their families have had to shoulder huge financial burdens, she is constantly conscious about how much they have sacrificed. The seven years of jail granted to her attackers have done nothing to lessen her hospital bills.
In 2016, 8 years after she was attacked, Soni finally got better enough that she could think of finding work. She looked in vain in UP. Over and over again she was rejected despite being more qualified than most other applicants. She was not just rejected from the jobs but insulted for her appearance and robbed of dignity. She is branded forever but one wonders, for what crime? Forcing people who look at her to acknowledge that senseless, ruthless violence exists in the world? She did not give up despite the many thoughtless rejections, she was desperate to repay her family in some way. After struggling for an year, she heard about Make Love Not Scars.
When she came to Delhi to approach the organisation, she was surprised to find several women there who had suffered similarly to her. She found a sense of camaraderie, strength and a joint desire to not just survive but to flourish. Eventually she began working with the organisation, today she is the manager of the Make Love Not Scars Rehabilitation Center. She helps set up classes and other workshops for survivors. She takes hospital appointments for them and handles all the paperwork and logistics required in these visits. She cares for the survivors throughout the recovery process. The aftercare requires special attention regarding the giving of medicines and special diets. Apart from that she manages the smooth running of the entire Rehab Center, food, management, handling phone calls, and managing the needs of all the people who come in. She remarks that it is extremely difficult for survivors to get the information that they need about their legal rights and medical options. People are just not forthcoming enough. She is driven to find these survivors, who might be hesitant to ask for help or approach authorities and support them with the help of her own experiences.