Do you remember Laxmi Agarwal, the acid attack survivor?
A stalker disfigured her face by throwing acid at her in 2005. She was just 15 when the horror unfolded. Agarwal globally represented women who have been subjected to violence. She even walked the ramp during the London Fashion Week in 2016.
Once a celebrated cause, nobody is ready to offer a job to Laxmi now. (Photo Courtesy: YouTube screenshot/@TEDx Talks)
In 2014, she was felicitated by former US First Lady Michelle Obama after winning the International Women of Courage Sword for successfully leading the campaign against acid attacks on women.
But the celebrations have stopped.
A couple of days ago, we read that Laxmi is reportedly broke and about to be evicted from her house as she has no money to pay the rent. Agarwal has no money to meet even her basic needs as she has been jobless for over a year now. Agarwal parted ways with her live-in partner and has to earn for her daughter — but people are not ready to rent a flat to her as they are worried she will scare their kids. Though she is a trained beautician, salons don't want to offer her a job for obvious reasons.
Once upon a time: Laxmi being felicitated by former US First Lady Michelle Obama. (Source: Twitter)
A story on her current status is what it took for people to come forward and offer her a job. Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar did render help by giving her Rs 5 lakh, but I think what is important right now is to give her a job. Agarwal has been receiving calls offering jobs now — but what is really sad is that nobody came forward to recruit her all this while.
She isn't the only one.
Have you heard of Sunayna Kuruvilla, Joshna Chinappa, Harshita Tomar and Swapna Burman? They are Asian Games medallists. What is disappointing is that though we celebrated their victories with great hype, soon they will be pushed into total oblivion.
Many of them have ended up broke, jobless and some even have had to leave sports due to a lack of facilities. Santhi Soundarajan won a silver medal at the Doha Asian Games in 2006, but was stripped of it after she failed a gender test. She was found working as a daily-wager in a brick kiln, slogging eight hours under a scorching sun — to earn Rs 200 a day.
Often coming from an economically disadvantaged background, athletes do earn a fair bit of recognition through their medals. State governments announce cash rewards and jobs to some too, but the harsh truth is they end up getting nowhere. We as a society feel so proud when India wins medals in international sporting competitions, but unfortunately, these stories just end up being a part of our living room conversations. Did we even know about Mahavir Singh Phogat before the Aamir Khan starrer Dangal? But we ensured that the film became a Rs 300-crore grosser.
It took Aamir Khan to tell us about Mahavir Phogat. We celebrated, then promptly forgot all about him, and the athletes who need support. (L to R) Geeta Phogat, Fatima Sana Shaikh, Aamir Khan, Mahavir Singh Phogat, actor Sanya Malhotra and Babita Kumari. (PTI)
We took great pride in celebrating the decriminalisation of homosexuality, but behind closed doors, we would feel disgusted, call this an 'illness' and not accept LGBTQ people as a part of 'our' society. We would seek the blessings of a hijra for a newly married couple or a newborn, but choose to conveniently laugh at them when they try to earn their livelihood at the red lights. All we give them is hate, stigma and social embarrassment.
Such a sham... shameful. As a society, we have become flag-bearers of hypocrisy. It is never-ending too. India aims to send astronauts into space by 2022. Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself recently announced the Mars mission. Ironically, even as we dream of women astronauts in space, we are still fighting the scourge of female foeticide in our homes, and have a long way to go when it comes to the education and empowerment of girl children. The way crimes against women are rising shows we lack all moral values.
As a country, we feel we are a super-power; unfortunately, our orthodox beliefs and cynical disbeliefs are eating away at our roots. We only actually believe in being loud, boisterous and blowing our own trumpets — but we have achieved very little as far as our purported values are concerned.
Don't believe me? Just think of the situation Laxmi is in and you will agree. We have little to celebrate beyond our pomposity.