Sheroes’ Hangout: Agra’s Newest, Courageous Move By Five Acid Attack Survivors

Written by Chaitra Krishnan, MA (Journalism & Mass Communication)  • 

Agra, the beautiful city is home to the world’s most popular symbol of love, the Taj Mahal. Not very far from this monument of love, there’s another monument that is built on the foundation of inspiring stories. But, their stories weren’t based on love, they are of victims who fell prey to hatred. Sheroes Hangout, a cafe run by eight women who are acid attack survivors is born out of pain. In a country like India where girls face tremendous pressure to maintain a fair complexion and fit in the expected beauty standards, Sheroes Cafe is a boat that’s rowing against this wave.

So, what are acid attacks? Attacking someone deliberately by pouring acid onto their body, (especially face) in order to ruin their appearance is precisely the intent and nature of an acid attack. The cowardly act is mostly carried out against women who refuse to reciprocate the thoughts and feelings of men. Well, Bala, Rupa, Geeta, Madhu, Neetu, and Shabnam, the Sheroes (She who is a hero) who run the Cafe are epitomes of inner beauty. They proved to their attackers and the whole world that acid attacks cannot kill their positive spirit.

The Founders Of The Sheroes Cafe

The Founders Of The Sheroes Cafe
Image: Instagram @sheroes_hangout

Good samaritans who are also journalists, Ashish Shukla, and Alok Dixit decided that they should do something more after covering the stories of acid attack survivors. So, they went on to set up the cafe to help the brave women triumph over their tragedies. With this initiative, apart from earning their livelihood, these women get to share their lives with others who’ve had similar experiences. As a community, now they work towards the upliftment of acid attack survivors.

Ashish and Alok also initiated the #stopacidattacks campaign to wipe out the cruelty that acid attacks are. Creating worldwide awareness about the issue and encouraging assistance for the victims was what the campaign majorly focused at. In a country filled with misogyny, the journalist duo has set an example for all the men.

The Cafe Without A Bill

The Cafe Without A Bill
Image: Instagram @sheroes_hangout

Have you ever been to a cafe or a restaurant where the price of a dish isn’t mentioned next to its name on the menu card? At Sheroes Hangout, you can eat anything you want and you won’t be charged a bill. Instead, you can pay how much ever you think you can and how much ever you think you should. Over here, you’re not charged for the food that you eat, but you are encouraged to extend your support to acid attack survivors. The yummy food and the heart-warming hospitality of the women who run the cafe will definitely make you fall in love with the place.

Another amazing feature of Sheroes Hangout is the mini library inside. You can pick up books and read them while you’re enjoying your coffee or snack. The cozy atmosphere of the place and the amazingly positive vibe can make the best of your evenings even better.

The Gruesomeness Of Acid Attacks

The Gruesomeness Of Acid Attacks
Image: Instagram @sheroes_hangout

The stories of each one of these sheroes resonate with each other. It’s always about someone who is attacked for standing their ground and not giving in. When Bala’s mother refused her boss’s unwanted advances, Bala was forced to pay the price. In a similar case, Shabnam’s boss threw acid on her when she refused his sexual advances. Madhu was attacked by an acquaintance on her first day of college. Geeta is Neetu’s mother and they were attacked by Geeta’s husband when Neetus was just three years old. Geeta lost her younger daughter in the attack to acid. Another sheroe was attacked with acid by her mother in law because she failed to give birth to a baby boy.

As horrendous as they sound, these stories are like nightmares to almost all the girls in India. Every girl has to live with this nightmare since anything can happen to them anytime, and the culprits will just slip out of the law within days. In 2013, an amendment was made to create a detailed set of laws that dealt with acid attacks. Even though the attackers have to face a prison sentence of at least 10 years, acid attacks unfortunately still happen.

The suffering of an acid attack doesn't end after recovering from the burns
Image: Instagram @sheroes_hangout

The suffering of an acid attack doesn’t end after recovering from the burns. In fact, it starts from there. Post the physical recovery, the victim has an emotional journey of facing the society. A lot of people in our society greet them with a frown. By succumbing to such incidents and reactions, the victims often give their attackers the evil pleasure they crave for and in turn, the victims remain traumatized. However, people have started coming out in support of these victims and are helping them empower themselves. Social media platforms, non-profit organizations, and even mainstream cinema have started voicing out their opinions in support of the acid attack victims. With movies like Meghna Gulzar’s Chappak which is based on the life of Lakshmi Aggarwal, an acid attack survivor, we hope that awareness is reaching to every corner of the country.

These women are rightly called Sheroes and their journey is filled with nothing but bravery and inspiration. Sheroes Hangout is located in Agra as well as in Lucknow. If you ever visit these places, make sure you get a cup of coffee from the cafe and support the brave sheroes.

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