By Bavleen Kaur | Opening Doorz Editorial | June 02, 2021

“They tried to burn her, not knowing she was a flame.”
R.H. Sin

When Kunti Soni married Sagar Rastogi in 2009, she was just 16 years old. The families agreed to the arrangement since they were from the same town in Lucknow. A few months after the marriage, Kunti learnt that her husband was addicted to alcohol and was also in love with another girl. This was the cause of many arguments and she suffered many physical assaults from her husband. Her in-laws were supportive and went to her rescue time and again, but Sagar beat his parents too.

Fed up of the daily scuffles and their son’s abusive behaviour towards them, his father asked them to leave the house and fend for themselves. They rented a home near their parents’ home and Kunti soon took up a job in a factory to make ends meet.

The fighting never stopped, though. She tried to explain to him to give up alcohol as it was not good for him and them as a couple. Her pleas fell on deaf ears. On October 21, 2011, there was another big argument that ended up in Kunti being beaten up yet again. The following day, as she was returning home after work with one of her friends, her husband suddenly appeared before her, threw acid on her and ran away. “He was heavily drunk that day too,” remembers Kunti. 

“It was around 7 pm. It was dark and I did not understand what had just happened to me,” she reminisces. After a few seconds, her body started burning and her clothes melted. Seeing this, her friend fainted. Kunti was rushed to the nearest nursing home for first aid. From there she was shifted to a government medical college.

Kunti’s friend registered an FIR and her husband was immediately arrested and imprisoned. However, after a year-and-a-half, he was released on bail. A few years later, he died in a road accident.

“Family is a life jacket in the stormy sea of life.”
J K Rowling

After this incident, Kunti struggled as nobody supported her. Society blamed her as she was the girl. Her family were under financial strain since her treatment was expensive. They received no help whatsoever from the government. Kunti kept herself locked in her home for more than three years, never once stepping out except to visit the hospital or court. But her family never gave up, they supported her throughout and that was her biggest strength. 

Acid Attack Survivor Kunti
Kunti Soni with her mother Kusum Devi and father Shambhu Nath.

Kunti despised her face; it frightened her. Twice, she tried to commit suicide but it was her father who gave her the strength to carry on. “He was my strongest support. He encouraged me saying, ‘Beta if you give up now, nobody will believe that it was not your fault. You have to live to prove everybody wrong’.” Her father wanted her to do something worthwhile in her life.

“Night is always darker before dawn and life is the same, the hard times will pass, everything will get better and the sun will shine brighter than ever.”
Ernest Hemingway

One day, as she stayed locked in her home, her lawyer told her about ‘Sheroes Hangout’. She visited there and spoke with the people heading it. On April 03, 2017, she joined the organization. After becoming a part of ‘Sheroes Hangout’ and meeting with all the people who worked there, she was overwhelmed. She had never thought her life could be beautiful again. She always thought that she wouldn’t be able to step out of the house without covering her face and she also hesitated to talk to people. ‘Sheroes Hangout’ gave her the strength and motivation to feel confident in front of society. “I am alive because of Sheroes and I am indebted to them for life,” she says.

Kunti does a lot of administrative work for the organization. She also ensures that other acid attack survivors get the right treatment and spreads awareness through campaigns. The people there are very supportive of each other and they have stood together through thick and thin. Nobody had ever given her a job even though her interviews went well but this place embraced her and enabled her to be an independent woman. 

Acid Attack Survivor Kunti
At ‘Sheroes Hangout’ Kunti Soni learnt to embrace life and also reach out to others like her.

Life at Sheroes propelled her to many exciting ventures and one such was landing a role in the Deepika Padukone-starrer Chhapaak. Kunti plays one of the friends of Laxmi Agarwal, portrayed by Deepika. “It was a wonderful experience working with Deepika and Vikrant Massey. They were all so welcoming and friendly,” exclaims Kunti. “It was a dream come true for me,” she adds.

What is Sheroes Hangout: This organisation is a community in India, run by survivors of acid attacks. Here, they aim to empower acid attack survivors. 

“Don’t focus on the past or you’ll miss the future.”
Zanri Haasie

Reliving the incident that changed her life ten years ago is harrowing, but Kunti never visits the past. Of course, there are those days when she remembers but soon quickly resolves to forget. “All I have to say is that now I never look back. I focus on what’s ahead of me and how I can make life better for me and the people who go through the same thing. What happened wasn’t in my control, but my future is and that is what gets all my attention,” she says.

Also Read: Acid Attack Survivor: Pramodini Roul, standing tall, fighting for justice

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