MLNS, Reshma, Laxmi, Chhapaak & Beyond

Tejinder Singh Bedi

Teams of above have done their job, its now the turn of the Governments to support the drive further

Laxmi Agarwal whose successful ordeal with acid-attacks has culminated as Chhapaak & her journey is on..

Chhapaak deals with a very sensitive issue. I happened to see the movie only well into the middle of the week of its release but was surprised that despite a fair amount of publicity the movie had been getting all over the print as well as electronic media in the fortnight preceding its release, the hall was only about 25 percent full in a city like Noida, known for its great potential for production of Films and TV serials besides hosting most of the news channels.

Can that be an index of the common man’s insensitivity or lack of concerns towards such grave issues? The way the movie has been made, it is clear that it is quite a low budget film with clearly no intent to milk money out of such a subject or a cause.

Deepika Padukone as a co-producer cum lead actor has herself made the maximum contribution to the movie but my hunch is she might have done this for a pittance only. So must be equally true both for Meghna and our senior Gulzar Sahib. Other artistes supporting as it is not being that pricey at all. The script has come straight from what has been happening around during broad daylights and has still not stopped despite the commendable work NGOs like MLNS (Make Love Not Scars) have done to raise awareness on the issues associated.The movie also hardly required any big sets or even great costumes and thus apparently seems to have served a great cause with all good intent with a very low investment and even lesser expectation on returns, beyond the efforts of the teams that contributed towards bringing NGOs serving such causes to life for a head start.

Reshma Bano Quoreshi — the other braveheart & face of MLNS

Sadly, however just before the release of the movie, the year 2019 has again ended with similar horrifying news of a rape victim having been set afire in Unnao and another attacked with acid again in Muzaffarnagar.

Do these things repeat to defeat concerted efforts of the few who wish to eradicate some serious evils from the society or are the awareness campaigns still inadequate to educate and develop the sensibilities and sensitivities of such offenders?

Author, Tejinder S Bedi with the braveheart survivors of acid-attacks

If it is the latter, the governments need to step in to promote such initiatives to take the strong messages these convey to the masses. The first thing should have been making the movie tax free by/in all the States. Doordarshan national network should buy the telecast rights of such movies to multiply the reach of such movies to every household connected with a TV set.

Author Tejinder Singh Bedi with DCW Chairperson at MLNS Office

Braveheart Laxmi Agarwal’s real life story can indeed be inspiring for any one interested in cleansing ills from the society though given the sluggish systems we live in, huge costs advocacy and the judicial processes entail, an individual grossly wronged even once in his or her life time can hardly afford to hope for justice at least in his own life time.

Unsuspecting people, who had immense faith in their own fellow beings have suffered the most in 1947 or in 1984 or even in isolated instances of mob violence or lynchings but what percentile of such sufferers has got justice in their own life times? Negligible to say the least.

Long years back, in August 1978 when Geeta & Sanjay Chopra, adolescent kids of a naval officer were kidnapped and murdered in Delhi the nation witnessed a surge of sympathy and siege of anger and the culprits were caught and brought to justice in good time, less than four years especially considering the mass media was practically non existent then barring the established print houses and pressures on all stakeholders to upholding justice in society far too lesser..

Almost 25 years after that case, it was even the more horrifying crime of Nirbhaya in December 2012 that brought even greater anguish on the streets and despite all the powers of the executive, police and the judiciary its culprits are now about to face the gallows after seven years in the far too alert era of social networking and 24x7x365 electronic supports.

In between, it was in 2005 that Laxmi Agarwal was targeted with the acid attack by her disgruntled, obsessive and jilted romeo, (who was also twice her age) but she hardly got any support from any sections of common public or media then except her advocate Aparna Bhat, who took her fight to a conclusive end. It is only their collective grit and perseverance that has helped Laxmi reach some semblance of success with the conviction of her culprits and a regulatory ban on sale of acid in retail in October 2013 yet again after another eight more youthful years of her life. Almost similar is the story of Reshma Bano Qureshi, who is the face of MLNS and has won global acclaim as a fashion model after her cat walk for Archana Kochhar at the 2016 New York Fashion Week. The way both Laxmi & Reshma have bounced back into leading a normal life has been a source of inspiration for many other survivors of acid attacks, actually pushed to the brink of a suicide but given a fresh lease and ray of life by the efforts of MLNS.

All medical aid to survivors of acid attacks should be made free in all government or private hospitals. Including the victims in the quota of physically handicapped should make them eligible for reservation in certain jobs. Uttrakhand government’s model of disability pension for those who can not be employed is also worth deployment in all the States.

One also hopes the States now seriously look at all issues related to regulation of sale of acid to persons only above the age of 18, subject to production of a photo id with verifiable address all across the country. Further, a daily online update with the nearest police station(s) highlighting details of the buyer, address can instill fear on misuse of the same for criminal acts.

The recent amendments in the MV Act and what the sudden enforcement of strict fines did to a common driver’s behaviour are an example how steep monetary penalties can deter offenders from violating any provisions of our traffic laws though the subsequent laxity has brought the situation back to almost where it has been .

The likelihood of imposition of heavy fines against users of single use plastic has also had a positive response in the society.Restrictions for open sale of acids need to be even stricter.

Government should also consider subsidizing research on substitutes for acids and for its packaging for sale in retail in anti corrosive metallic bottles with possibilities of ejection in very small quantity through multiple ejections only rather than as a free flowing spray. Research should also be directed to explore if acids can be converted into the form of a jelly and sold in a semi solid state instead of its liquid form that makes a splash or a chhapaak far more easier! Aided by the government,leading technical institutes like our IITs, Punjab Engineering College & others could also lead in research for suitable alternatives to sale of acids through bottles or other unsafe containers.

(*Author Tejinder Singh Bedi is a former technocrat, a people management, CSR Adviser, free-lance writer and a passionate singer)