The help desk at the Delhi Commission for Women (DCW) has a new face. The face that the commission chairperson, Swati Maliwal, said has given hope to many women who approach the DCW with their problems.
Mohini Atri’s (33) smile blurs the burn scars on her face. Since she joined the commission, she has repeated the sordid tale of an acid attack by a stalker in 2004 and the hardships that followed to a number of women seeking help from the DCW.
“Dukh alag hota hai lekin dard ek hi hai (Problems can be varied but the pain is the same),” Atri said. Women who approach her with problems like domestic violence are more keen to find out about Atri’s. She said she had been patiently listening to the women and most of them told her that if she could overcome her adversities, they could too.
The attack on Atri also left deep scars on her mind and morale. She dealt with painful surgeries, crushed confidence and stinging comments from some of her relatives.
“I am the only child. People told me this was my fault at some level for which I would have to suffer. A relative told my parents that they were nursing a breathing corpse. But one day I took off my scarf and decided that I was going to be a victim no more,” she said.
In 2014, an unknown caller on her cellphone changed the course of her life. “He had bought a second hand phone which had my number stored and he called to ask if we had met. We didn’t know each other but we got talking after that. We became friends and I told him all about me. We first met at a mall in Nirman Vihar and in the middle of the busy mall, he went down on one knee and asked me to marry him. I was too embarrassed so I just ran away,” said Mohini.
Now a mother of an eight-month-old baby boy, Atri, who earlier worked for a private firm, approached the DCW for employment.
“It was unexpected. We sought the government’s help to get jobs for acid attack victims and two of them were placed with the commission itself. Very soon one more will join us and we are trying to create a post for another one,” said Maliwal.
Shaheen (33), who had been helping acid attack victims even earlier, was hired as a part-time consultant with the DCW. She will be a part of Acid Watch, a cell created by the DCW to aid and assist acid attack victims.
“I understand the pain and agony of acid attack victims. So the commission knew that I was committed. So many cases have started coming to the DCW, some are 20 years-old. They all need help,” said Shaheen, who was attacked by a juvenile allegedly at the behest of an envious colleague. She lost an eye following the attack in 2009.
Acid attack victims need medical, emotional and legal support, she said. “The society looks down upon acid attack victims and are not seen as normal. Losing your face is losing your identity. Even today when I think of my lost right eye, I feel a lot of pain,” said Shaheen. With her new appointment as a consultant, she said, “I feel happy that I can be of help to victims who need it the most.”