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Promodini Roul has not been able to touch water to her face for the last two years, but that’s not the biggest of her problems.
She has 18 percent vision in her eyes, and for more than a decade, she’s been coping with the fallout of 85 percent burns all over her body. All of this, because a 35-year-old soldier would not take no for an answer from a then 17-year old Promodini, and poured acid on her.
Promodini goes by the name Rani, and I think it suits her. It means Queen, and she has been an absolute warrior queen in her fight for justice.
After her attack, she did not receive first aid quickly and the acid ate into her, resulting in severe burns and an utter devastation of her body. She sank into coma, and for weeks fought for her life in intensive care. She then spent five months in agony and paralysis on the bed. She could not see, could not do anything by herself, nor stand on her feet. Her attacker was a soldier, and he was not arrested. The case was closed in 2012.
Rani did not give up. She fought to recover with unrelenting support from her mother, and continued with physiotherapy. By 2017, an eye operation returned some of her sight, and she could continue her campaign for justice. The chief minister of her state intervened, resulting in the arrest of the culprit. The case is ongoing, with a verdict to be handed down after the covid lock-down ends in India.
The lock-down has not been easy on her–she needs to travel for eye treatments every two months and that has not been possible. She is supported by her fiance Saroj Sahoo, who met her while she was in hospital in 2014 and has stood by her ever since. They got engaged in 2018, and hope to marry soon. All the procedures she goes through are very expensive and she is supported in these by the Chhanv foundation, with their campaign Stop Acid Attacks.
They have now started a new petition to the government of India: #IndiaIsAbled–to fight for the rights of the disabled.
Acid attack survivors like Rani face a gamut of physical challenges and need treatments. The current lockdown has put them under impossible financial pressure as well as a lack of medical support. Rani has to take steroids in order for her body to be able to accept a new cornea, and her compromised immunity leaves her extremely vulnerable. She still has surgeries pending in order to restore proper movement.
For those who do not speak Hindi, here is what she says in the video below:
Acid attack survivors like me are disabled, and in the current situation, disability rights are being overlooked. I might be able to survive without food for a while, but the problems with my treatment are many, and if I’m not able to get the procedures done on time, I will lose the battles I have fought for so long. We have started the India is Abled campaign for the support of disability rights: please sign the petition, and help us out.
It would be a huge personal favour to me if you take a minute to sign the petition to support strong, badass women like Promodini Roul.
For those who have read You Beneath Your Skin, a lot of the story borrows form the tales of survivors, and having met so many of them now, I can vouch for their grit and integrity in sheer defiance of the unspeakable odds they have battled. (Here’s a post that speaks about Rupali, another survivor.)
Promodini remains associated with Chaanv foundation, and has found employment as a social worker now. She also campaigns for the rights of acid attacks survivors and the the disabled.
As I ended my call with Promodini, her voice broke as she said, “You know, I’m happy otherwise. We have problems, but none so big that we can’t cope with. There are 10 other survivors where I live, and we are able to cope, if only we are treated as equals.”
Do you support disability rights? Could you take a moment to sign the petition for Promodini Roul? What sort of punishment should be meted out to culprits who commit acid attacks?
My debut literary crime novel,”You Beneath Your Skin,” published by the fab team at Simon and Schuster IN is available in India here.