Agra, India– A new cafe in the Indian city of Agra, besides serving coffee, aims to remove the stigma surrounding victims of acid attacks.
Cafe Sheroes’ Hangout, an initiative started by the Stop Acid Attacks campaign and the Chaanv Foundation, hopes to spread awareness of acid attacks by having survivors like Chanchal, Ritu, Rupa and Geeta run it.
The cafe also houses a library, a community radio hub and a boutique corner that showcases Rupa’s work.
Rupa, 22, wanted to be a designer but the attack delayed the realisation of her ambition. “Earlier, I used to cover my face with a scarf but not any more. Though I never gave up on my dream, I did not think that it would be possible one day.” In August, she launched her own collection called Rupa Design.
“The idea behind opening this cafe was not only to run a business but also to run an activity centre to spread awareness,” Ashish Shukla, a lead campaigner for Stop Acid Attacks, told Al Jazeera. “People think that acid attack victims are from the outer world. Sheroes is an effort to make them believe that they are from this world only. Since we as a society are responsible for their scars, it is our responsibility to fix it and bring them into the mainstream of society.”
Priyanka Singh, one of the customers at the cafe, couldn’t agree more: “It’s for a good cause. The idea is to rehabilitate the acid-attack victims and make them financially independent. I came out here to support the cause.”
The idea for the cafe came from the founders who thought it would be an innovative way for survivors to earn a living.
“Most of these survivors are unlikely to get married. Hence, making them self-reliant is important so that they find a place in the mainstream [society],” Shukla added.
Sheroes is a play on the word hero, Shukla said, their way of honouring acid attack survivors.