Alok Dixit, a former journalist, set out to fight against the scourge of acid attacks in India. Along the way, the issue consumed him and he found himself in a relationship with one of the acid attack victims, Laxmi. Here, in a first person account, Dixit relates his experience and the relationship that has caught the attention of a nation that is fighting to stop more such attacks:
Just like anyone falls in love, I fell in love with Laxmi.
Yes, she is the victim of an acid attack, and it shows, but that did not come in the way of our relationship. I liked her courage and the fact that she boldly faced the world without trying to hide within four walls.
We decided not to get married and instead be in a live-in relationship. Marriage in our situation can bring with it lots of pressure on us. Relatives will attend the wedding for the curiosity value rather than any real concern for our happiness.
When we are standing up against some of the conventional notions that society has, the institution of marriage too is one of them, and we have to take a stand against it.
My family is not too happy. My father in particular has not accepted my decision of living in with Laxmi without marriage. I have tried to convince him, but he remains determined not to acknowledge that Laxmi is the girl I love and that I want to live with her. He is the principal of a college in Kanpur, my home town (in northern Uttar Pradesh state).
On the other hand, my mother has totally supported me in my decision to live with Laxmi. She was always with me from the time I was young and wanted to do many things. Her father was a freedom-fighter and she too has attempted to work for society. She runs a primary school for girls in the town.
As for other relatives, they are not at all happy. I have not met them in a while and they too have indicated they are against my decision. Actually, they do not understand why I have chosen Laxmi as my partner. They are caught up in the old ways of thinking and I cannot help it.
Sometimes we need to stand up against society, and I have no hesitation in saying that someone like my father is an example of how society thinks. He may be my father but he is a representative of society. And it is not love if I give in to pressure from various members of the community.
We announced our live-in relationship to friends on social media a few months ago. I did not want to publicise this, but a reporter from a Lucknow newspaper wrote about us and now it has gone beyond us.
It is not that I was always an activist against acid attacks.
I was earlier in the Indian Air Force, but after a couple of years there I realised that I did not want to do any mainstream job. The thought of working like most people – from morning to evening – used to put me off.
I wanted to do something either in politics or social work. I did a course in media and wanted to be a journalist. But things were not really working for me in that field.
I was in a fix and in trouble as I did not know which way to go. The media lost its appeal for me. I also felt I was not suited to it.
|Laxmi before the acid attack
At the time I got deeper into the issue of acid attacks while following up a story. I wondered why anyone would want to resort to such a terrible thing.
The issue sucked me in and before I realised I was campaigning against acid attacks. That is when I met Laxmi. From the very first, I was attracted by her courage and spirit.
She had been attacked in 2004 when she was just in the seventh standard at the age of 15.
Her friend’s brother, who at the time was 32 years old, used to pester her to marry him. He was from Ghaziabad, a town near the capital of New Delhi, notorious for its criminal gangs.
She kept avoiding him and finally said she would not oblige him. This angered him and he threw acid on her face with the help of a female friend.
He is now in jail but is scheduled to be released in a year or so. We fear that he will come back to hound her. The woman culprit is already out of jail.
For some years she refused to meet anyone and stayed indoors. After a while, she fought her way out of her insulation and is now vocal and public about her experience.
In the last two years, we have built a campaign across the country called "Stop Acid Attacks". Our organisation, made up mainly of acid attack victims, makes it a point to visit the victims and help them in whatever way possible.
Right now, we are running a campaign against society called "SPOT OF SHAME" under the banner of Stop Acid Attacks campaign, and have scheduled meetings in more than 50 places across the country. In each place, we go to the actual spot where the attack happened to highlight this terrible crime.
Laxmi and I cannot go personally to all the places, but our members go to these spots in an attempt to somehow sensitise people to acid attacks.
Our organisation is mainly crowd-funded and this has helped sustain our activities. We do not want to go in for institutional funding and support from political parties.
I am not sure where we are headed but we are clear about one thing – we must do something drastic to stop acid attacks.
(As told to K S Dakshina Murthy)