Acid attack survivor Laxmi Agarwal struggles to find job and may soon be without home

Recently, speculations were rife that Laxmi Agarwal was upset for only getting paid Rs 13 lakhs for Chhapaak. The acid attack survivor spoke about the same and rubbished all the rumours.

Laxmi Agarwal clarified the news on official micro-blogging site Instagram and also posted a screenshot of a news report which read: “Real Acid Attack Survivor Laxmi Agarwal Only Paid Rs 13 Lakh For Chhapaak.” Laxmi captioned the post as, “Ye bilkul fake news hai. (It’s fake news)” and rubbished the rumours quite subtly.

In fact, she was one of the winners of the US State Department’s International Women of Courage Award in the year 2014 (First Lady, Michelle Obama presented it). But sadly, she is now without a job and may soon be without a home too. This is heartbreaking. In 2005, acid was thrown on Agarwal by a stalker.

Agarwal is facing possible expulsion from her two-room flat in east Delhi’s Laxmi Nagar because she can’t afford the rent. “People believe that I must be well-off since I received so many awards, walked the ramps, gave talks – but I have no money to meet even my basic needs,” she said. Agarwal has been without a job for more than a year.

Laxmi Agarwal with her child. Credits: Ketto

Four years ago, her life seemed to be good. She and her partner, Alok Dixit, the founder of the Stop Acid Attack campaign, were expecting a child. The couple, in the news for their decision to live-in and not marry, co-founded an NGO named Chhanv Foundation.

Soon after the daughter was born, though, the two of them separated on account of some differences. That was three years ago.

Laxmi Agarwal had custody. She also had a job, which is a director of the NGO, for which she was paid Rs 10,000 a month. But unfortunately, that stopped last year when she quit, again on account of differences with Dixit, who confesses that he has not been able to give any financial assistance to her or the child.

Dixit, who co-owns two cafes under the brand name- Sheroes, in Agra and Lucknow operate on the ‘pay-as-you-please’ mode for customers. “I have no money. I just don’t. You can check my bank account and it doesn’t even have Rs 5000. This is how we activists live. I don’t have a regular job and all the money that my NGO gets is spent in taking care of acid attack survivors,” he added.

With her savings depleted and the landlord wanting to increase the rent, Agarwal has been looking for a house. It’s not easy, she says. Potential landlords, she adds, often say “ they don’t want their kids to get scared by my disfigured face”.

Agarwal knows how hard it is to find a job. She is hunting for a job for quite a long time. She faced so many heartbreaks in her life. She even shared her ordeal: “I am educated till the 10th standard, but am a trained beautician and can communicate well. But my face becomes a hurdle when I ask for any job at any beauty parlour, as they say customers will get scared of my looks. I applied at a call centre and told them that the customers wouldn’t see my face, but they replied that ‘to get a job, I need to have a face to begin with’.”

According to Activists several acid attack survivors in India get sympathy, but don’t get financial assistance. “There is so much money that gets spent on multiple corrective surgeries. Laxmi received Rs 3 lakh in compensation from the government after a Supreme Court order, but much more went in her surgeries, and the pregnancy that followed.

She got a lot of recognition when she got the award from Michelle Obama, but her award money was not enough. In India, people are willing to give awards, not money,” Anurag Chauhan, founder of the NGO Humans for Humanity added.

he got a lot of recognition when she got the award from Michelle Obama, but her award money was not enough. In India, people are willing to give awards, not money,” Anurag Chauhan, founder of the NGO Humans for Humanity added.

The acid attack survivor had hosted some episodes of a TV show, and walked the ramp at London Fashion Week in the year 2016. “The channel paid me Rs 38,000 for a few episodes. I felt appreciated, as they chose me over pretty anchors. I never got any payment at London Fashion Week, though. I do get invites to walk the ramp for Delhi designers but since there is no payment involved, I have stopped taking part in shows. I have a child to take care of and I need a permanent source of livelihood,” says Agarwal.

Aarti Surendranath who is a former model and actor said that the government must take necessary steps to help Laxmi. “I had read about the horrific attack and somewhere in my heart, I felt connected to her. Her future is very very bleak. She constantly lives in fear and panic as there’s no security for her or her daughter’s future. While it’s the philanthropic responsibility of all individuals in the society, the government must take concrete steps to help such individuals,” she added.