Setting new standards of beauty
15-year old Laxmi Agarwal had no idea that a seemingly ordinary day of 2005 would turn her life upside down. Agarwal was returning home after her music class, when she was attacked by 32-year-old man Gudda and his alias Nadeem Syed whose advances she had rejected.
Laxmi, who is now a single mother of a girl, says though she has made peace with the unfortunate past, the dreadful memories still haunt her. "I don't think I will ever be able to push those memories out of my mind. I was leading a normal life, and one incident suddenly took my life by storm. Thereafter, I had to go through 70-80 operations, my studies were hampered, and dreams were shattered. I had no idea if I would ever be able to bring my life back on track, or inspire a thousand people, or become subject for a movie," states Laxmi, who survived the situation and emerged out as a winner.
"Today, I feel proud to see myself standing strong. I don't cry anymore. I have successfully managed to explain people that my beauty if defined by the work that I do, and not how I look. But whatever happened in all these years– say it the demise of my father and brother, or the disorientation of my family – it's unforgettable," she adds.
Laxmi advocated against acid attacks by gathering 27,000 signatures for a petition to curb acid sales, taking that cause to the Indian Supreme Court. She is the Founder of Stop Sale Acid – a campaign against acid violence and sale of acid.
While rising from the ashes, one thing Laxmi knew was that she was not a victim. "I was never a victim, will never become one, and won't let anybody else victimise others. I hate how casually this word is used. Why to call anybody a victim" she questions.
The acid attack survivor walked the ramp for Designer Laxmi Shirali at India Runway week, which was held in the Capital recently. Agarwal is happy about the fact that they (Designers and organisers) have chosen an acid attack survivor to step up and explain the real meaning of beauty. "We need to understand that beauty is much more than superficial appearance. And events like these give out a message to society as well as other survivors like me, to muster courage and make something meaningful out of this life. If somebody could take inspiration from my story and achieve what they always dreamt of, I will be the happiest person on the planet."
Laxmi's life and struggle has inspired an upcoming Bollywood film titled Chhapaak, which will see Deepika Padukone in the titular role. The movie will bring into light some unexplored aspects of Laxmi's life…but does that make her insecure?
"When a celebrity like Deepika comes out to support a cause and speak on behalf of all the acid attack survivors, it's an answer to all those (the society) who constantly try to suppress people like us. As far as the fear of showing the unknown sides of me is concerned, I would say that Laxmi is an open book. The fear vanished soon after the attack. The person Laxmi was in 2005 doesn't exist anymore. She is a completely different personality now. She has no fears, no inhibitions."
"For the rest, you need to wait and watch the movie. I can't reveal much," she concludes.