Last Sunday our dear friend Damyanti organised a blogger’s meet. Though it was around her bestselling novel You Beneath Your Skin, her main aim was to have the two charities her book supports come and share their work and success stories. Stop Acid Attacks was represented by Ritu Saini , a young acid survivor and Project Why by Rani, Anita, Kiran and Sanjay. The main topic was violence against women and what can be done to stop it.

It was a cozy meet with a few bloggers and us and hence it was easy to talk and share what each one of us felt.

I was deeply moved by Ritu’s testimony but what truly shook me was two statements this young and feisty survivor made. The first one was that she was grateful to her attacker as the attack was what made it possible for her to break free from the restricting walls of her life and come to in the open and receive so much love. And the other was that she would like to ask her attacker without any acrimony what went in his head when he perpetrated that terrible act because she never wanted anyone to ever feel that way! Wise words from such a young soul. Ritu was 17 when tragedy struck and is in her early twenties now. I pondered on what she said and realised how true she was. Had there be no acid attack her life would have been that of any young girl from her community, confined to the walls of first her paternal home and then her marital one. It is the attack that propelled out of that world into one where she could find an identity and a voice. Today she advocates for acid attack survivors in more ways than one. Ritu is also part of the cast of Chhapaak the film soon to be released.

Her other almost candid question addresses the one we all ask and seek answers to: what is the root cause of violence against women? The answer is very complex and sadly there are no quick fixes as violence against women is deep seated into the patriarchal society we live in where boys and girls are not treated equally even by their own mothers. It is all about mindsets and changing mindsets is long haul.

In my opinion education is the only way this can happen, but again education has to be one that is not set in a patriarchal mould. This is what we strive to achieve at project why. The stories shared by Rani, Anita and young Kiran are ample proof of the fact that education can bring about a real transformation.

Rani would have been married off at a young age and would have lived within the restricting walls of a traditional marital home but was able to break free because she came to us and never looked back. She completed her education, opened her horizons and lived life her way. That does not mean she went haywire as many think women do if given a modicum of freedom. Rani is now married and a mother but has broken free of the shackles of patriarchy.

Anita too found her voice thanks to Project Why and was able to complete her higher education and refuse a marriage when the dowry demands were unreasonable. She was ready to live on her own terms.

Education is the only way to put an end to violence against women. It is a slow process indeed but a sure one. School curriculum needs to be altered to include lessons on gender equality and sex education. It needs to be able to slowly change mindsets so that tomorrow’s mothers do not differentiate between sons and daughters; so that boys grow up respecting women as individuals and peers; so that no code of silence is imposed on anyone.

Addressing all these issues was empowering and I hope that those who were present will use their pen and voice to share these stories and show that things can change. One only needs to take the first step.



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