Warning: This article contains images that some readers may find disturbing.
Indian student Sonali Mukheriee was a lovely and successful 17-year-old, president of her university’s student union, captain of the National Cadet Corps (a national army corps for students), while pursuing a PhD in sociology. She had everything to look forward to.
Then in the space of a few moments, her bright future was destroyed.
One night she was home alone when three men broke into the house. Day after day, she had dared to fend off their sexual advances on her way to school. Now as she fought back, she suddenly felt a horrible burning sensation. It was like she was bathing in flames. The pain was so intense, she could no longer see. Then she stopped hearing anything, and finally she went unconscious.
When she woke up, she was in the hospital. She couldn’t move, speak, or even eat. She had been the victim of an acid attack.
The doctors didn’t know what to do at first. The skin on her faced had been entirely burned off. She had no ears left, no eyelids. “The challenge was to give her kind of a normal face, close to what a normal human being would look like,” her doctor explained.
For months Sonali was in constant pain. It was like a nightmare she couldn’t wake up from.
Over the next 10 years she would undergo 27 facial reconstruction surgeries. Meanwhile, her father sold everything he owned including the family’s house to pay to take Sonali’s attackers to court and pay for the surgeries.
The criminals who committed the atrocious act were sentenced to nine years (only nine!) but in the end, they were released after two. She has appealed the decision but the court still has to set a date.
Sonali was so desperate that she petitioned the government to allow her to die. But then her spirit rallied. She was determined not to let them destroy her life. She found a way to get on TV, to show Indians and the world what acid attack victims go through. She even participated in the Indian version of the TV show “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” managing to win the $40,000 prize.
Thousands of people sent her donations to help with her pursuit of justice as well as her surgeries. One of those people was Chittaranjan Tiwari, a 29-year-old electronic engineer. Chittaranjan was so moved, he wrote to her asking to meet. Eventually, amazingly, they not only met, they also fell in love and got married.
Now the couple has a beautiful baby whom they’ve named Pari, which means “face of an angel.”
Watch her whole story on this video:
In spite of the best efforts of three barbaric men, Sonali’s powerful spirit has triumphed. Indian law has even recently been changed to punish perpetrators of acid attacks much more harshly. Here’s hoping not only that assaults like these are stopped completely, but that the women who’ve already become victims are inspired by Sonali and receive all the medical, financial, and moral support they need!
Sonali and Chittaranjan have their work cut out for them, building their family and raising their little angel. As the young mother said, “My life feels complete now. This is the best feeling after years of desperation and agony. I feel I have been rewarded for all the pain I had to endure.”