An acid attack survivor in India doused with acid by a scorned lover found love with a man who dialled a wrong number but she is now determined to teach their son to respect women.
Mohini Gaurav, 34, from Delhi, northern India, was only 22 when she was attacked with a jug of acid in November 2005 by a man who stalked her for over a year.
She was in an auto rickshaw with her father on her way to the railway station heading to Jaipur, in a neighbouring state, to start a new job. Suddenly she was attacked with acid by stalker, Rakesh, who was 25 at the time, for rejecting his advances.
She said: ‘He had harassed me for a long time and even proposed to me but I refused because I did not like him in that way. I was focused on my career and wanted to become a news anchor at that time. I made a complaint with the police and they forced him to give me a written apology in front of them.’
Mohini remembers that day like it was yesterday.
‘I was screaming in pain like nothing I’d felt before,’ she said. ‘I did not understand what had happened. All I was thinking was how badly I was burning. I was lying on the road and my clothes were just melting into my skin. I was screaming for help, while some women passing threw water on me and covered me with their scarves.’
Mohini suffered 38% burns to her face and chest while her father, Sheoraj Kumar, 70, also suffered minor injuries. They were taken to the city’s Lok Nayak Government Hospital by onlookers but doctors were shocking by the injuries as acid attacks were not common at the time.
She added: ‘Doctors were shocked to see us. Acid attacks were not very common back then and doctors were nervous to treat us. They had never treated an acid attack victim so did not know what to do. They made me sit under water for nearly two hours before starting any treatment.’
She recalls the misery that followed the attack, and how she locked herself inside the house for three years to avoid any human interaction.
She said: ‘I looked horrible. It was even painful to look in the mirror as I hated seeing myself. My family suffered too. They had to listen to the taunts off people and members of our family even. It was heartbreaking but my family never stopped supporting me.
In 2008, one family member called Mohini a ‘living corpse’ and it devastated her mother.
My mother cried a lot, she was devastated to hear that. I decided to try to get my life back
‘My mother cried a lot, she was devastated to hear that. I told her it was the last day she had to listen to it. I decided to try to get my life back. I started going to the market but with a covered face. I started to apply for jobs and socialising again. I decided to live again.’
Mohini eventually started working in a communication company and her life changed forever. In October 2009 she received a ‘wrong number’ call.
She explained: ‘I received a call on my mobile and I assumed it was from some client who had extra queries. He asked for someone I knew so I assumed it was an official call but after a few seconds I realised it was a wrong number. He apologized and we disconnected the call but during those few seconds of our conversation, he came to now I worked for a tele-sales company. After a few days he called me again and from there we started talking.
‘Initially, I used to feel very irritated by his calls but after a few months we became friends and a year later, he actually proposed. But we had never met so I obviously rejected his proposal. He had no idea about my scars. I told him I am an acid attack survivor. I said: ‘You would not want to marry me after seeing me’, but he was adamant he wanted to meet me.’
In February 2011, Mohini finally met Gaurav Kumar, 34, who worked in a private firm, and as soon as they met he went down on his knees to propose again.
He seemed genuine and there was no reason to say no
‘I could not believe my eyes,’ Mohini said, who has so far had 30 surgeries on her face, eyes, neck and hands. ‘I was very hesitant but realising is feelings towards me, I knew there was something good. He seemed genuine and there was no reason to say no but still I wanted us to get to know one another better and his proposal was not sympathy led.’
The two began a relationship and waited four years before they eventually married on March 3, 2014.
‘Our parents were initially concerned,’ she said. ‘They weren’t sure. But as time passed they could all see our love for one another. He became my best friend.’
And in 2015 Mohini fulfilled her dream of becoming a mother when she gave birth to their son, Rakshit, now two.
‘I never imagined marriage or children were in my life plan after the attack,’ she said. ‘I thought that part of my life was finished. But to have what I have today is just a miracle.’
Mohini feels very strongly about her role as a mother to a young boy.
‘I will tell him everything that happened to me when he is older,’ she said. ‘He deserves to know everything. Why should I feel embarrassed or ashamed? It was not my fault and he should know everything. It will make him strong and make him aware of bad people in our society.’
Mohini, who currently works with Delhi Commission for Women as a Coordinator, is now an inspiration to many other acid attack survivors.
In her job role she takes various calls off women reporting domestic violence, rape, dowry harassment and acid attacks from across the city.
She said: ‘Whenever I get a call off a woman who is an acid attack victim, it hits me hard. I instantly connect their stories with mine and it is tragic to see how common this crime has become. Nobody knew of such crimes when it happened to me but today it is the most common crime to ruin a girl’s life forever.’
The sale of acid has been banned in India, however; the statistics still show a clear increase in the number of acid attacks on women in recent years. According to the Acid Survivors Foundation India (ASFI), at least 122 acid attacks were reported in 2013, while the number escalated to 349 in 2014, and in 2015, the organisation claims the figure rose to over 500.
Mohini’s attacker was arrested soon after the attack but quickly released and has never been prosecuted for his crimes. He is still walking free today.
Mohini added: ‘It is important that we teach our sons good values and morals otherwise every man will turn to crime, like the man who attacked me.
‘I am determined to teach my son to respect women, but more than anything to respect people. If people respect people and realise the fragility of life, we will not be attacking one another so easily.’