Acid Attack Survivor Pragya On How Her Daughters Reply To Those Questioning Her Scars
- IWB Post
- September 18, 2019
More than a decade ago, a girl, after completing her post-graduation in Apparel Management, was traveling to Delhi for campus placements. She was a newly-wed bride aspiring to make it big in the fashion industry.
But then, fate happened.
Instead of reaching the institute all bold and confident, attired in formal clothing for placement interviews, she ended up getting carried on a stretcher clad in bandages and peels of her own burnt skin into the Burns Unit of Safdarjung Hospital.
This is the story of Pragya Singh, a Bengaluru resident who was attacked with acid on the train by a distant relative the night she was traveling to the capital city for campus placements.
“I woke up all baffled and confused in the ICU. It took me a while to understand what had happened,” Pragya told us over a telephonic conversation.
“I was lucky because a couple of my cousins somehow got me admitted in the ICU ward where I was given proper care and treatment. Otherwise a lot many patients cringe and cower (and often die) in pain in the Burns Unit due to the insufficient number of beds in the ICU. This realization struck me during the three and a half months I spent in that hospital. Just because one didn’t come from influential backgrounds and families, does that mean he/she will be left out in pain awaiting death?”
It is probably this very realization during her treatment and recovery period that planted in her a deep urge to do something for such patients who suffer miserably due to acid burns and are devoid of proper medication.
Little did anyone know back then, that just after a few years, Pragya would go on to execute exactly what she felt at this moment. In the year 2013, she founded the Atijeevan foundation – an exclusive organization for acid-attack victims that seeks to provide FREE scar treatment to patients.
“In most of the cases, it is not so much the pain of the attack, but the absence of proper and adequate treatment, that worsens the wounds. The problem with burns is that the healing process is very slow. People don’t believe in recovery unless they see the results that are visible to the eye.”
It is with this aim that Pragya established Atijeevan – to show people their recovery, to aid them in the best possible way. The foundation does this through its collaborations with several hospitals across the country that treat burn patients for free, while some others provide a good fat 30 percent concession on card rates. She accredits her foundation’s ability to provide free treatment to her devoted team which works hard for the funds.
“During the two years of my recovery, I met a lot of surgeons, researched a whole lot about the various treatment options, and took a proactive interest in the healing process. When I was in the hospital, I used to walk up to other patients and talk to them, counsel them, motivate them, saying ‘You are less burnt than me. If I can walk, so can you.’”
Fate may have played its whims on Pragya’s life, but she refused to bow down and be cornered by them.
I was in Chennai for some time for my treatment. Even then when I was covered in bandages, I went to the beach, I went to the movies, without hiding my scars under layers of clothing. I think I was able to fall back into my normal life because of my family, my husband. It is with him that I went to all the places; it is he who always made me feel comfortable. Even today, when I travel outstation for workshops et al, he supports me completely by working from home to take care of the kids.”
On one end of that phone call was the valiant Pragya talking bravely about her experiences, and on the other hand, was I, holding the phone firmly and moved deeply by the conversation that I was privy to.
“I have two daughters – Aishi (10 y.o.) and Tishya (8 y.o.). They are growing up to become strong and independent individuals. Many a time, they are asked questions about their mother: ‘Why does your mother look so ugly?’ ‘Why does your mother look the way she does?’ They aren’t embarrassed or ashamed of such questions. Instead, they are wise enough to answer these calmly. They explain with compassion, and they sympathize with the pain of others. Sometimes, outstation patients come and stay at my home. My daughters are not afraid of looking at them. Instead, they talk to them and comfort them affectionately.”
‘In all these years of meeting and healing acid attack victims, has there been any particular story that touched your heart the most?’ I asked Pragya.
“All of the people I have met in this journey are close to my heart, but there is a girl named Deepmala who I got to know about in Dec’14, and who I am attached to very dearly. She is a girl from Lucknow who was acid-attacked by her husband. I got to know about her through another patient of mine, and seeing her pictures, and learning of her family, I knew I had to call this girl here and get her treated.
Deepmala was blinded by the attack, abandoned by her relatives, and she’s the only child of her parents who are now in their sixties. Her case hurt me so deeply because a lot of people were taking advantage of her – clicking her pictures, selling them on the internet, promising help, but never really living up to that promise.
Some time back, we got a special surgery done for her wherein a small bone from her lower back was planted with a lens in her eyes. This helped her to gain 20 percent vision. With these improvements in her vision, Deepmala has been able to become self-dependent to a certain extent, and that has been a huge achievement for me. I dearly wish that she is able to sustain herself and lead a happy life. She is my dream kid.”
By now, I was gasping! It was because of hearing Deepmala’s tragic circumstances, or it was due to the miraculous power of understanding others’ agony, that brought light where there was oblivious darkness, I do not know. But what I do know is that I was spellbound.
In what came out as a stammered speech pattern, I asked Pragya about another dream (other than Deepmala) that she heartily wants to turn into reality.
“I still want to work in the fashion industry. After recovering, I did apply at various places, but everyone dodged my application by asking me to ‘get well’ first. However, in rehabilitating a lot of my patients, I have taught them a thing or two related to fashion. Cushion-cover-making, stitching, embroidering, etc. Sometimes, I also teach these things in the Close Burns Group Meeting that we conduct in Tinjan Hospital.”
PS: In case you wish to contact Pragya, or offer some help, contact her here.