Deepika Padukone is set to appear as Laxmi Agarwal in the upcoming film ‘Chhapaak’ which is to be directed by Meghna Gulzar. In the first look that she released, Deepika as an acid attack survivor is as shocking as it is poignant. But who is Laxmi Agarwal and why is her story important?
Laxmi Agarwal is an acid attack survivor whose face was attacked with acid when she was a minor and had refused advances of a man named Gudda. In 2005, Laxmi Agarwal was just 15 years old when she was attacked by three men on a motorbike, a common modus operandi of acid attackers.
Accoring to Acid Survivors Foundation India (ASFI), there are over a hundred attacks each year. Some survivors claim that many cases go unreported and around 1000 attacks happen each year. Laxmi’s story is one of the many stories where violent patriarchy has ruined not only faces, but futures of bright, ambitious young women as Laxmi.
Born in New Delhi to a economically weak family, Laxmi’s family went through many trials and tribulations after her attack. In an article on People, it was noted how Laxmi’s father went through depression and Laxmi herself was very suicidal for the longest time. She had always wanted to be on television but after the incident, her dreams were shattered, said Laxmi’s mother speaking to the media. For three years, Laxmi didn’t leave the house. ‘People would come and look at me and said, it would have been better if she had been killed,’ Laxmi has been quoted as saying. Eventually when Laxmi found the courage to come out of her house and begin afresh, no one was willing to hire her. Even though she learnt tailoring and beautician skills, she was constantly turned down. Meanwhile Guddu and his friends were sentenced to 10 and 7 years of imprisonment for their heinous crime. But Laxmi’s life was changed forever.
Laxmi’s story was covered in the media and she then began campaigning for stopping the sale of acid. She started a petition that went to the Supreme Court. Her campaign ‘Stop Sale Acid’ is against violence and sale of acid. She received many awards from international organizations including UNICEF and also was awarded the International Woman of Courage Award by US First Lady Michelle Obama. She recited a poem when she received the award and she received thunderous applause for it. “The face you burned is the face I love, I am flourishing,” she said. Laxmi’s voice rings loud and her courage is a testament to how many women like her deserve justice.
She campaigned tirelessly for stopping the sale of acid and continues to do so. She has found a job as an NDTV anchor and has found love as well. She is in a relationship with Alok Dixit, a 26-year-old journalist who helped her in the campaign. Alok is the founder of ‘Stop Acid Attacks’ which is a campaign based in New Delhi. The two have a young daughter named Pihu. Laxmi continues to strive for the rights of women who have been subjected to acid attacks and wants to put a stop to this practice altogether.
Given Meghna Gulzar’s history as a filmmaker who has focused on women-centric story and the sheer star power of Deepika Padukone, one hopes that the film’s message makes the due impact and outreach it needs to.