When Anshu was 16, she had acid thrown in her face. Kapil Sharma, 55, was a fellow villager from Bijnor, in India's Uttar Pradesh state when he attacked Anshu after her refusal to marry. Now, Anshu's face and left eye are completely damaged, along with the left side of her chest and hand.
Some months later, she saw a newspaper article about Sheroes Hangout, a cafe in the city of Agra, run by fellow acid attack survivors. She persuaded her mother to take her to the cafe, opposite the Taj Mahal. Finding acceptance there was enough to change her life for the better.
Today, Anshu is a trainee waitress at the cafe, which opened just over a year ago, in December 2014. It has attracted attention worldwide and had 5,000 customers within the first six months. Not only does it aim to serve delicious food, it also raises money through activism workshops, selling handicrafts and presenting exhibitions.
Through the initiative of the Stop Acid Attacks campaign and the CHHANV Foundation, Sheroes Hangout was developed to break down stigmatisation of acid attack survivors. After a series of campaigning across India, a handful of women came together to face the prime issue - helping survivors get employment. "They faced and still face lots of problems in getting a job because their face is disfigured," said Megha a Sheroes volunteer, "So, the team decided to start a venture of its own, where they can appoint the people whose faces has been disfigured."
"Sheroes Hangout has already broken the stereotype in India."
Sheroes Hangout was designed for women to live an independent, comfortable life within society. "Society was not ready to accept them as their part - they considered them as alien," said Megha. There are currently seven acid survivors working at Sheroes; Anshu, Dolly Kumari, Farah Begum, Geeta Mahor, Neetu Mahor, Ritu Saini, Rupa Saa. All of who sustain acid burns to their face and other parts of their bodies, "Now society has accepted them as their part and is also supporting them at their fullest." said Megha, "Sheroes Hangout has already broken the stereotype in India."
309 cases of acid attacks were reported in 2014, a 300% rise in three years. "It's very common here, people must know about this," said Megha. After years of perpetrators getting away with this violent crime, The Law Commission of India stated from 2013 that attacking someone with acid is punishable with a maximum of 10 years in prison.
Increasing its popularity worldwide, Sheroes Hangout is pleased to be attracting others overseas, "It's very important for other countries to have an understanding of burn injuries overseas, especially with acid attacks because it's a crime." Said Megha, "It can happen to anyone in any other country."
"Sheroes is a platform where they interact with the society and the world."
Now, the women are able to channel their horrific stories by serving their customers and fitting into the social norm, "Sheroes is a platform where they interact with the society and the world. I am sure that when customers leave the Sheroes, their heart would be full of memories and emotions," said Megha, "My girls are the liveliest people customers will ever meet in their lifetime."