Imagine being a 17 year-old girl, juggling time between college and work. Every night when you come home after work, the annoying male neighbors make catcalls and ask you to sleep with them – and every day you say “NO!” You tell your parents about them, but when your father goes next door to talk to their families, nothing happens. Finally, after years of them sexually harassing you, you tell them that you are going to call the police. As you lay in bed that night, you wake up to the sensation of liquid being poured onto your face – then suddenly the pain of your face melting off jolts you awake. You used to be a beautiful girl with a promising future, but now you are blind, partially deaf, and have a face that must be covered by a scarf because of the horrific burns… you are Sonali Mukherjee.
Sonali Mukherjee was a teenage college student living in Dhanbad, India when three of her male neighbors broke into her house to pour acid on her while she slept, just because she refused to sleep with them. The three men are: Tapas Mitra, Sanjay Paswan, and Brahmadev Hajra – one of them is rumored to be a married man in his 40’s. Mitra and Paswan were supposed to spend nine years in prison, but they spent less than two years in prison after paying bail. Since Hajra was a minor at the time of the incident, he was let off the hook. While the attackers were enjoying life outside of prison, Mukherjee’s family was suffering; they were forced to move because of the constant threats from the attackers, her grandfather died from a heart attack, her mother fell into depression, and the younger sister (who also suffered burns from the attack) was married off so she could have a life. Mukherjee had 22 surgeries performed, but the cost of the surgeries forced her family to sell land, cattle, and family jewelry.
For the past nine years, Mukherjee has met several Indian government officials, but never received any aid. After her family ran out of money, Mukherjee wrote to the government, asking for permission to kill herself. Her letter was released to the media where it was seen by the producers of “Kaun Banega Crorepati” the Indian version of “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.” The producers asked her to be on the show for the Doosra Mauka (Second Chance) episode that features contestants who showed courage in the face of adversity. Mukherjee answered 10 questions correctly, winning 2.5 million rupees (or $45,000) in November, 2012.
Mukherjee’s journey is still not over since she still has nine operations to go through. When she is done recovering from her surgeries, she plans to continue speaking out against violence against women. Already she has helped make a difference in India; after her letter to the government was released since summer, India erupted into anger at how a woman was forced to suffer while her attackers barely spent time in jail. Mukherjee realized appearing on television is what made the difference, telling Agence France Presse “Once everything else had failed, I decided to use my face. If you can stare at a picture of a pretty woman then you can look at my burnt face too.” India ranks #4 as the worst country for women; 90% of violent crimes are against women and that number continues to increase. After receiving negative national attention about Mukherjee, and a gang rape on a city bus that resulted in a young woman dying, the Indian government started to create laws to stop the violence. In February 2013, the Indian government approved a law that would imprison acid attackers for 10 years to life and the Supreme Court directed officials to discuss regulating the sales of acid and to set up a fund for victims. It is up to victims, like Mukherjee, and society to continue to battle the monsters that believe women are sex toys for men. If we let the government sweep these crimes under the rug, then women will never be equal to men and will continue to be abused, raped, and murdered. Mukherjee states, “I don’t want what was done to me done to any other girls” and she vows to continue the fight…will you?
- Steve Nolan. “Acid Attack Victim.” Daily Mail.
- Kavitha Rao. “Saving Sonali.” Marie Claire.
- Sonali Mukherjee Wins “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” Huffington Post.
- TNI Buereau “Sonali Mukherjee – The Acid Attack Victim” The News Insight.