By Bhavini Joneja | Opening Doorz Editorial | May 16, 2021

Robert H Schuller

She was only 17 when the incident took place. Pramodini Roul or Rani to friends and family was in Grade XI when her beauty caught the eye of a 28-year-old paramilitary officer, Santosh Kumar. Santosh had decided he wanted to marry her! He approached Rani’s family with a proposal but they politely turned him down. Rani was only 16 years old at the time. He then tried to impress Rani by stopping when she was on her way to college and dropping off gifts for her at her home which she never accepted. 

Santosh continued to pester her family to a point that the matter escalated into a fistfight. On being threatened by him, she was so afraid of his intent that she stopped going out to college and tuitions. After a year, Santosh unexpectedly apologized to her family for all the trouble he had caused them. Though they forgave him, Rani knew that Santosh was keeping tabs on her. She told her family about her fears, but they dismissed them.

On the evening of April 18, 2008, at around six o’clock, Rani was returning home from her aunt’s house with her brother when she saw Santosh on a motorcycle with two others. She remembers seeing a vial of some kind in Santosh’s hand. He stopped them and once again asked her to say yes to or he would do something that she wouldn’t have imagined. She refused politely and just as she prepared to depart with her brother, Santosh opened the vial he had in his hands and said: “If you can’t be mine, I won’t let you be anyone else’s,” and poured acid over her head.

The prolonged nightmare in hospitals

“The treatment was the most challenging part,” remembers Rani. When she was rushed to the hospital, she wasn’t given the correct first aid. The ministrations she received worsened her condition. Subsequently, she reached a better healthcare facility and was admitted to the ICU. By this time she had already lost an ear, both her eyes and her entire scalp had been damaged. She went into a coma for 26 hours after which, she was paralyzed and was barely able to speak. Everyone in her family, apart from her mother, had lost hope and wanted her to discontinue the treatment and return home. She stayed, paralyzed in bed for five years since her family was neither willing to continue her treatment nor could they afford it. 

Acid Attack Survivor Pramodini

A close friend of hers suggested physiotherapy so that she could at least walk again. This was a challenge in itself as the family did not have money to afford private treatment. Yet, they went through with it. During her Physiotherapy sessions, she met Saroj Sahu, a friend of the nurse who was helping her. Sahu would go on to become her best friend, her support system and later her husband! He supported her financially, mentally and emotionally as she was crushed, not only by what had happened but also by how society had alienated her, the financial constraints and her mother’s struggle. While a lot of things seemed uncertain at this point she was certain of one thing: she wanted to see Santosh Kumar behind bars.

The fight for justice

After four months of intense physiotherapy, Rani was able to walk again. Despite all the challenges she was facing, she aspired to continue her studies and prove society wrong when they said that she was incapable of achieving anything. She felt that it was very unfair that she had been forced to give up on everything (her education, her identity and all that she had worked for) without any fault of her own. She found out about Chhanv Foundation through the internet and reached out to them for aid. She regained 20 per cent of her vision through multiple surgeries. Along with the ability to walk, she had regained some of her confidence as well. 

She started to collect evidence against Santosh Kumar to get justice. The IPS officer of Odisha was very supportive and helped in her mission to get Santosh arrested. She connected with the Chief Minister of Odisha, Mr Naveen Patnaik, who assisted Rani and helped create awareness about acid attacks. On November 25, 2017, Santosh Kumar was tracked down with the help of the State as well as the Central Government and finally arrested. Trials have been going on and a verdict was due in April 2020 but was delayed because of the pandemic.

Laws need to get tighter

Rani feels that though relevant laws exist, the process of implementing them is inadequate. She talks about how acid is sold without any restrictions, which is just one factor that makes acid attacks so common. “The execution of laws is rife with corruption. Many acid attacks go unnoticed and even when they do get addressed many survivors fail to receive the required treatment,” says Rani who is happy about the film Chhapaak and the positive impact it has had, especially with bringing into focus victims of acid attacks. 

Acid Attack Survivor Pramodini
Pramodini Roul with her mother (far right).

Police officers have the biggest role in ensuring that survivors get justice. This assurance was not provided to Rani and her family in 2008 when the incident took place. “The police force has become much more sensitive now about these cases. Times have changed for the better,” she says.

Currently, Rani is heading Chhanv Foundation’s team in Odisha as a project coordinator. She is doing exactly what she wanted to do: work for the rehabilitation of survivors like herself. She is working to create much-needed awareness about acid attacks in Odisha. 

On March 3, 2021, Rani had the biggest smile on her face as she stood by her best friend, now her husband, Saroj Sahu. Rani is a perfect example of someone who has been through hell and has come out of it stronger. 

Rani’s is a story that corroborates Robert H Schuller’s book, Tough Times Never Last, Tough People Do.

About Chhanv Foundation

Chhanv Foundation is a non-profit organization which is dedicated to the rehabilitation of acid attack victims, helping them financially by raising funds for their treatment. They empower survivors by teaching them various skills and help them earn a living to support themselves and their families. Even during the pandemic, their work has continued by means of an app called ‘Bekomic App’. A café called ‘Sheroes Hangout’, one of its kind set up in two locations, Agra and Lucknow is exclusively managed and run by 30 acid attack survivors.

Pic Courtesy: @PramodiniRoul/Facebook

Also Read: Turning her scars into stars

Leave a Reply