Over the past 12 years, Anu Mukherjee has given several interviews, met journalists, politicians, attended political rallies and panel discussions. “Everyone says we will help you, but no one ever steps forward,” says Mukherjee, who has fought for a better life after an acid attack blinded her and left her with extensive injuries on her face, arm and thighs.
The attack apparently had roots in jealousy of a colleague, whose brother threw acid on Mukherjee in December 2004. Both Mukherjee and Meena aka Simran were dancers at a bar in Jangpura. Mukherjee said Meena was “jealous” because she was “more beautiful and a better dancer”.
Meena and her brother, Raju, were convicted by a trial court for causing grievous injuries using dangerous weapons or means. The trial court sent them to jail for five years in 2011. The duo filed appeals before the Delhi High Court challenging the judgment, and Mukherjee filed a plea to increase their punishment. On May 27, the Delhi High Court enhanced the term of imprisonment to 10 years and also directed the Delhi State Legal Services Authority to give additional compensation to Mukherjee, and pay for her treatment. In 2015, the legal services body had released Rs 1.5 lakh as compensation to her.
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“I have spent over Rs 35 lakh so far and have had 22 surgeries. I am under debt of over Rs 7 lakh,” says Mukherjee. Sitting in the office of her lawyer, Advocate Kamlesh Jain, she talks of years spent undergoing treatment and the frustration over assurances of help not translating into real help. Her latest surgery, to reconstruct part of her melted off nose cost nearly Rs 2 lakh and increased her debt burden. The surgery helped her breathe easier, and brought “some normalcy” to her appearance. “You see my photos from before the surgery, I didn’t have half my nose.” Mukherjee is now due to get surgery at the Sankara Nethralaya in Chennai. She is hoping it will restore at least part of her vision.
Mukherjee was given a job at the office of a Supreme Court judge, after he heard her story during a TV panel discussion on acid attack victims. “The people at my office are very nice. Judge sahib gave me a job on probation for five years. I sit and attend phones and take care of files,” says Mukherjee. The job, however, is not enough with the mounting bills. “I earn Rs 18,000 per month. My brother earns about Rs 15,000. Out of this we have to pay rent, electricity bills and for food and treatment. I give Rs 3,000 to the man who drives me around for appointments. How am I supposed to manage?” she says.
She says, “I met Sonia Gandhi as well as Sheila Dikshit, when she was the Chief Minister. She said, ‘I have all sympathy for you, and we will help you’, but no money ever came.” Mukherjee adds that she and two other acid attack victims were taken to Andhra Pradesh in 2014 to meet Narendra Modi during a BJP Lok Sabha campaign rally.
“They told us to talk about how the Congress government had not helped us at all, gave us Rs 50,000 and said we will get more help once Modi ji is elected PM, but nothing happened after the elections. We were not even allowed to meet him,” she says.
A similar story, she says, happened when she met DCW chairperson Swati Maliwal and Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. “They say we are very sympathetic to you, hamein tumhari bohot chinta hai.” Mukherjee adds when she asked for aid from DCW to get treated for fever and infection following a surgery, she was told she could “buy fever medicine for 2 rupees and didn’t need more”. “Everyone takes my photo and puts them on the internet, people keep asking me kya hua, kaise hua? They have made a joke out of my life,” she says.