By Bhavini Joneja | Opening Doorz Editorial | September 23, 2021
On March 3, 2021, acid attack survivor Pramodini Roul had the biggest smile on her face. She married someone she met while in the hospital. A chance meeting with a stranger when she was in agony in her hospital room in 2008 changed something on the inside for this 17-year-old boy. Saroj Sahu has never looked back since that time and today they are husband and wife, against all odds!
Helping someone can never be the wrong thing to do, but helping someone even when everyone is against you is something that only exceptional people have the courage to do. Saroj Sahu is one such exceptional human.
The question uppermost on everyone’s mind is why? Also, how can someone fall in love with someone who has been disfigured? Sahu is unfazed. He knows these are questions anyone will ask and he has a simple answer. “The heart wants what it desires. It is said that a person’s inner beauty defines them, and I firmly believe in this. We both have the same interests, values and thoughts. We have a connection, very often we know each other’s thoughts even without words being spoken.”
Today, the people who were never in favour of Saroj even helping Pramodini, beg him to let them meet her just once. His parents, who didn’t support their relationship, now try to extend their stay at their hometowns just to be able to spend more time with them. The family which had originally given up on Pramodini’s life, now cry when she is about to go back to her husband’s house.
A 17-year-old Angel… Saroj Sahu
Before a chance meeting with Pramodini at the hospital, Saroj was just 17-year-old working as a medical representative. He was a teenager who was taking care of his family. Yes, he knew the meaning of responsibility. Also, because of his job, he had made many friends with the hospital staff in the various hospitals he visited.
A nurse he knew took him to visit a patient who everyone was talking about at that time. It was Pramodini, Rani to friends. For Rani and her mother, it was nothing new as the nurse would keep bringing someone or the other to show them her condition. However, Saroj was troubled by what he saw. He was completely unaware of what an acid attack was. “How can a small amount of liquid inflict so much damage?” he recalls thinking after meeting Rani. He was curious about what had happened and how he could help the patient.
His visits to the hospital daily built a close bond between him, Rani and her mother. Her closest friends had all abandoned her. However, she was doing her best to get back on her feet and move on with life. She needed funds for her treatments and the money was disappearing fast. Saroj unhesitatingly volunteered to fund her treatments.
Saroj comes to the aid of Pramodini
Saroj comes from a very humble background, belonging to a family of five, being the eldest of three siblings. At this young age, he was earning just enough to fulfil his own needs. At such an age, most people would not even have had the courage to befriend someone who had been outcast by society, let alone helping them out financially. Knowing his orthodox parents would be alarmed, he did not inform them that he was using his salary to support an acid attack victim.
Years later when they did find out about the efforts Saroj had put into Rani’s treatment through news reports, his parents still did not give their approval to Saroj’s actions. As his involvement in her treatment increased, Saroj spent all his free time with her, and consequently gave less attention to his friends. They were not supportive of his friendship with her and thought that he was taking an unnecessary risk by helping her.
Even the doctors tried to dissuade Saroj saying, “She will not make it, and even if she will, it would take her at least four years to walk; how will you keep supporting her?” they said. Being a man of courage and conviction, Saroj was not going to let societal pressure stop him from doing the right thing. His heart was set on a mission.
The hard grind to recovery
Saroj did not let the disapproval of society affect him. He remained defiant, even though the chances of Rani’s recovery were bleak. Due to his commitment to helping her, he was unable to keep the balance between work life and assisting with her treatments. He took a break from his job for two months to provide all his attention to her. Even though she had managed to relearn how to walk, Rani was still partially blind and her burnt face was far from being healed.
During that time, her story had gained a lot of coverage. The Chief Minister of Odisha was helping them track Santosh Kumar (the person who had thrown acid on Pramodini). It was through social media that Pramodini got to know about Chhanv Foundation. They asked her to be a member and invited her to Delhi and even sponsored her treatments. Back in Odisha, Saroj realized that he could not live without Pramodini. After all the time they had spent together, he realized that they had a much deeper connection than just friendship.
He proposed to her as soon as she came back to Odisha. They decided to get formally engaged a few months later. Their friends and family attended the ceremony and seemed to be very supportive of the couple. However, they were all puzzled as to why Saroj was marrying someone with scars, someone who wasn’t conventionally ‘pretty’. They all assumed Saroj was infatuated with her only for the sake of fame. As Rani’s story spread, she was called to give interviews, take part in press conferences, etc. and everyone believed that he only wanted to marry her for the assets she had been provided with by the government.
Saroj was offered accolades and awards from the Government of Odisha for helping Rani, but he never accepted them as he believes that he is being recognized for something that should not be rewarded. “I simply did what any good human being should have done,” he explains.
An acid attack activist now
Saroj is now an acid attack activist and is heading the Odisha branch of Stop Acid Attacks. It is a campaign initiated by the Chhanv Foundation, which works to create a network of all the Acid Attack survivors in India. Being the husband of an acid attack victim, he has seen what victims, as well as their families, go through. A lot of times, families abandon their children if they fall prey to acid attacks. Such survivors need assurance, understanding and support to continue to fight for their life. Saroj and Rani meet survivors and help them with their treatments and try to bring them at ease by supporting them emotionally.
Even though the criminal who perpetrated this heinous crime has not received the right punishment, Saroj and Rani continue to fight against all those who commit such heinous crimes.