In mid-2006, Pragya Prasun had just graduated from the apparel management program at Pearl Academy and was newly married. She was traveling to New Delhi only 12 days after her wedding to attend an event on Pearl’s campus. What happened next was unimaginable. Prasun was the victim of an acid attack by a rejected suitor, a distant relative she barely knew. Acid attacks in India are all too common, and are often carried out because of a romantic or family dispute. Over 80 percent of the victims are women.
Prasun spent more than four months in a hospital recovering, and was lucky to have a plastic surgeon in her family who helped with the necessary surgeries and recuperation. It was not lost on her that this was an especially fortunate situation, and she thought about what it might be like for an attack victim who did not have the same kind of access to resources that she did. She saw that Indian government hospitals were unprepared to provide the kind of physical care needed for victims, let alone the emotional support required to fully recover.
“There is a lack of awareness about what is necessary for full healing,” Prasun said. After a few years of working and recovering herself, she decided to start doing what she could to guide and assist other survivors, mainly women, through the healing process. The problems with the system are numerous, but mainly amount to two issues: laws that are not strong enough in their restriction of acid sales, as well as a lack of resources and proper care for those who survive.
Prasun’s organization, the Atijveen Foundation, was started in 2013 and works with women through the many stages of recovering from an attack, beginning with providing opportunities for funding of their surgeries, then guiding them through the physical and emotional rehabilitation process. The third component of the foundation’s work is what makes it stand out — they seek to empower the women in any way they can, from providing workshops on skills training to helping them network and become reintegrated into their communities.
“They [the survivors] need to build up their confidence again, to find the confidence to leave their homes again,” Prasun said. “We give them an extended family of support.” The foundation now has over 90 volunteers all over India, and has helped more than 120 women through the healing process.
The issue of acid attack is a pertinent one in India, and the foundation also advocates for stricter enforcement of laws that could prevent acid attacks, which happen an estimated 400 times a month in India. A new law meant to curb the sales of acid and prosecute perpetrators was passed in 2013, but has yet to be fully enforced. The foundation also is working with the government and other NGOs to set up a system of skin banks that would make performing surgeries much easier, as there is currently no formal network.
Prasun balks at being called a victim, because she sees herself as a survivor, as someone who has rebuilt her life and is on a mission to help others do the same.
“I have always wanted to be an example of strength to all of the patients I am working with,” Prasun said. “I want to be an ambassador of hope for them.”