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“I know I am beautiful inside”

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Acid attack survivor Laxmi on her newfound freedom
We’ve all read about horrific acid attacks in the papers. A passing shudder at the senseless cruelty and we’re back to our lives. But, what about the victim? Eleven years ago, Laxmi was a happy 15-year-old girl skipping her merry way to a local book store. A 32-year-old stalker attacked her with acid and ran away. In a flash her life changed. Seven excruciating surgeries in three years while society forgot about her and the accused roamed freely on bail. 
Laxmi has managed to put her shattered life back together. Even though she lost her father and brother during this ordeal, she created her own little family with Alok, her live-in partner and Pihu, their daughter. She is the lead campaigner of the Stop Acid Attack campaign, face of a leading apparel brand and chairperson of Chhanv Foundation, an NGO that helps acid attack survivors.   She also received the International Women of Courage Award, 2014, by First Lady Michelle Obama, and the NDTV Indian of the Year Award.
On this Independence Day, Nykaa salutes Laxmi and her outstanding bravery. Over to the lady herself, the challenges she’s faced and her newfound freedom.  
You are an inspiration to us all. How was your life before this incident?
I had a pretty carefree childhood with schools and studies taking most of my time. I loved singing and wanted to pursue it as a career. I always wanted to see the world. So during my summer vacations, I took up a part time job in a local book shop and on February 22, 2005, while going to work, I was attacked with acid.  
Did you know this person? What do you remember of that day?
Yes, he was my friend’s brother and I knew him. He had proposed to me earlier too, but I had declined his advances. So he, along with his brother’s girlfriend, attacked me in full public view. I was shocked and in a lot of pain. Although the two ran away nobody came forward to help me. I was writhing in pain until a politician’s driver passed by. He took me to the hospital and I was there for the next ten weeks. When I saw my bandaged face for the first time, I was scared by my own face.
Have you forgiven the person responsible?
Forgiving is a great deed, but I can’t forget what this person’s actions did to my family. My father and brother died from the trauma and my whole life was shattered. I’m an ordinary girl and it’s impossible for me to forgive this person.
What treatments did you have to undergo?
I had seven surgeries from 2005 to 2007 and then a bigger surgery in 2009. I need to undergo four more surgeries to get considered for plastic surgery, if I can afford it in the future.
How did it change your life?
Although my family supported me during this time, society shunned us. Our relatives and friends started ignoring us. I had no friends and felt extremely scared to go out. The only time I could face the world was by covering my face with a veil. My life was scary and traumatic.
Do you feel this incident was a defining moment in your life?
Had it not been for that incident, I wouldn’t have had the chance to become associated with the Stop Acid Attack campaign. I believe everything happens for a reason. Maybe I was destined to motivate people to become more than victims.
You have received so many awards for your bravery and determination. Do you feel powerful and strong?
So many people have come forward to reveal their disfigured faces and join me in this cause. Survivors of domestic violence, acid attacks and rape are taking courage from my struggle and rising up to fight another day. This positive change has definitely made a powerful and strong human being.
How do you feel about your life? Is it hope, fear or joy?
Ab Dar kis baat ka..! (smiles) I have already been through hell and there can’t be anything worse than this. But, yes I am happy to be with my family, with Alok and Pihu and feel hopeful that every change that is happening is towards something good.
How did you meet Alok?
When I heard about the Stop Acid Attack campaign. I happened to meet Alok regarding a job opportunity. That’s when he offered me a job. We started working together and became close. Once we were open about our feelings, we opted for a live-in relationship.
Do you ever feel unsure of yourself when you walk beside gorgeous ramp models?
In Delhi, I’ve walked for Dolly J and at that time, I was confident. I strongly believe that beauty comes from within and I know I am beautiful inside. People get dependant on others to compliment their outer beauty, but it should be the other way round. You must believe in yourself and not let other’s viewpoint hold you back.
At a time when most women are obsessed with their looks, do you think beauty should be redefined?
If beauty would have been the biggest parameter, you wouldn’t have been interviewing me (smiles). I have a daughter and when she grows up, I want her to understand that being strong is much more important than being beautiful. So yes, it’s high time to redefine beauty now.
Do you want to share something with Nykaa readers?
The only thing that I need to tell your readers is that there is no point crying over spilled milk. What is done is done and can never be rectified. So you must be strong enough to get up and fight another day. Don’t focus so much on external beauty because ultimately you are more than your looks.  
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