What Do I Do With Awards When I Can’t Pay My Bills: Laxmi Agarwal
Acid attack survivor and activist Laxmi Agarwal is on the verge of being rendered homeless. She wants the society to know that merely giving medals and awards won’t help pay her bills. Agarwal, who was attacked with acid in 2005 by a jilted lover, has been advocating inclusion of acid attack survivors in mainstream society. She fought the battle against free sale of acid in the country and won it in 2013 when the Supreme Court banned it. But today, she is battling against a society that’s still not ready to recruit an acid attack survivor, give her their house on rent or help fund her surgeries.
QUITTING CHAANV FOUNDATION
Agarwal co-founded Chaanv Foundation along with her former live-in partner and activist Alok Dixit. Both of them went on to start two cafes in Agra and Lucknow, recruiting only acid attack survivors. But since the whole objective of the cafes is to take care of the survivors and for customers to pay-as-you-please basis, monetary gains from the cafes are low.
Earlier Agarwal used to earn Rs. 10,000 monthly while working at Chaanv Foundation. But after she quit the NGO following differences with Dixit, that income has also stopped. Today, she has no fixed income. With a three-year-old daughter and her mother to take care of, the going is tough for Agarwal.
“Last month, my landlord told me either to leave the house or they will increase the rent. I told him that I will leave the house because I won’t be able to pay an increased amount. After that I started looking for other houses on rent and it has been a month but I have not been able to find a single person who would rent out their house to a person with a disfigured face like mine. It has seriously affected my work and caused a lot of disappointment in me against the society where people first ask me about my face before talking about rent,” said Agarwal to SheThePeople.TV.
“When I could not bear the harassment any longer, I finally decided to go live on my Facebook to raise a voice and tell people about the harsh ways of the society and my life. “People think that I have won so many awards, spoken on international forums, hosted a show, so I must have a lot of money. Since last year, after quitting Chaanv, money has been extremely irregular. It is in a gap of two-three months that I get an event, from where I get Rs.30,000-Rs.35,000 in which I survive the next two-three months.”
Agarwal has also not been able to admit her daughter in a school because she doesn’t have enough money. “Even good government schools require the approach of somebody for admission,” she told us.
SOCIAL MEDIA TROLLS
The activist went on live on Sept 16. While she received help from the media, which is now covering her story, she also got trolled. “People said that I was lying and that I want more money, that’s why I am doing all this. I urge all those people who think I am a liar to come to my house and see for themselves the condition I am living in,” said Agarwal.
RAISING A VOICE
Over the last week, several people have connected with her and helped her with money. Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar also reached out to her and transferred Rs 5 lakh in her account. “My contribution is a very small gesture. I am embarrassed to even mention it. The idea is that Laxmi should be able to search for a job with dignity, without having to worry about paying house rent or stressing about not being able to provide a nutritious meal to her baby. I wish people realise that when a person is in need of livelihood, medals, awards and certificates don’t pay the bills. It’s important to support through practical means,” the actor told HT.
There are others who have transferred up to Rs 15,000 to Agarwal’s account after her story spread in the media.
BEING A FIGHTER
Talking about her struggles, she said, “There are very few people who are actual fighters, otherwise most acid attack survivors remain victims. Since 2005, whatever I did, I never asked for help for myself. I have always talked about support in the context of acid attack survivors. Even today, if I was all alone, I wouldn’t have asked for any help. But I have a small child to take care of. I don’t want her to feel stressed. That’s why I had to come out in front of people about my reality.”
When asked about her relatives, Agarwal squarely denied of any help from there. She said that those people have no part to play in her life. They left her right when she was attacked in 2005.
“There are very few people who are actual fighters, otherwise most acid attack survivors remain victims. Since 2005, whatever I did, I never asked for help for myself. I have always talked about support in the context of acid attack survivors. Even today, if I was all alone, I wouldn’t have asked for any help. But I have a small child to take care of. I don’t want her to feel stressed. That’s why I had to come out in front of people about my reality.”
Laxmi Agarwal with Michelle Obama (Picture credit-Deccan Chronicle)
After the acid attack, Agarwal received government compensation of Rs 3 lakh for her treatment. However, she has spent over Rs 30 lakh in her surgeries. She is yet to go for another surgery for her eye, which — due to the attack — remains open at all times and is quite hurtful for her. “In so many years, I have not been able to save enough money for that surgery and it is painful every day to go about with an open eye. The surgery is expensive, but there is no stable income. Government needs to understand that the compensation amount it provides is not even close to enough to what is required,” she said.
Now, with Agarwal’s financial condition out in the open, many companies have approached her for a job. She is a qualified beautician. She can host and conduct shows for radio and television for which she also has suitable experience. Agarwal has also run and managed her NGO, so she also has experience to work in an NGO at a managerial level.
Here’s the link to a fundraiser that will help Agarwal until she finds a stable job.