Sheroes Hangout- A café that reveals the heroism and survival stories of acid attack survivors
Their maimed faces would never say about the wounds lying deep rooted in their hearts. Eyes that glittered with the hope of a happy tomorrow will bewilder you at times and the confidence they carry by accepting the fact of being disfigured would satisfy your soul immensely. Finally, they have started relishing the taste of freedom by leaving behind the days of hiding.
The description written above is dedicated to the working staff of Sheroes Hangout, a unique café that was started by following a vigorous campaign to stop acid attacks in India and to uplift the acid attack survivors.
In 2013, a campaign was started on Facebook called Stop Acid Attack (SAA) which connected more than 300 acid attack survivors, later on turned out to be a crowd funding project that started to guide and support the survivors with their legal fights, medical aid and their emotional battle. The co-founders of the campaign are Alok Dixit, Ashish Shukla and Lakshmi Agarwal.
The campaign also formed Chhanv Foundation (shelter) a three bedroom home in Delhi, which provides free food and shelter to the survivors who come to Delhi for treatment. They also get the opportunity to meet other survivors there. In this way the campaign progressed, more people got connected and finally the model of Sheroes Hangout germinated. Sheroes Hangout Café is completely crowd funding venture that was started in Agra, in December 2014.
The café is entitled to the acid attack survivors, so all the working staffs here are acid attack survivors who had been enduring their ordeal silently before they came close to Chhanv. The café runs with the ‘pay as you wish policy’. The medical and the legal expenses of the survivors are taken care with the money generated by the café.
Sheroes, the name of the café itself reflects the concept – ‘She + Hero’. With the burnt scars on their faces, these ‘sheroes’ do every work to run the café, from managing the desk to taking orders. Refusing to break, they even inspire others with their gripping stories of resilience.
Sheroes Hangout also provides skill training to the survivors as per their areas of interest. The café has a library, a community radio hub, a performance stage, a boutique and an exhibit space to display crafts and designs created by survivors.
The space has attracted more than 5000 visitors within the initial six months. The café has become a new favourite spot for the tourists, not only because of the delicious snacks and coffee it serves but also for the sense of fulfilment one takes with while leaving the place.
After Chief Minister’s visit to the Sheroes Café in Agra, the government of Uttar Pradesh joined hands with SAA and extended its support to the acid attack survivors and introduces many policies for their upliftment. Following the initiative, more than 100 survivors were compensated to bring them back to the mainstream.
The second chain of Sheroes Hangout is located in Lucknow. This space is also designed as a reach-out center of Uttar Pradesh, which enables people to discuss openly about the little known crimes occur in their surroundings. It also works as an activism workshop that offers a stage to the survivors to speak freely in public about the crime by tearing the veil they need to adorn forcefully.
After Uttar Pradesh CM’s initiation, the Ministry of Women and Child Development ensured an exclusive reach out ambulance facility to bring the survivors to the better hospitals for quick medical treatment. The Reach-out center provides 24×7 service to the survivors and their families.
It is difficult for those whose faces have burnt scars beyond recognition, to connect with the society; a society where beauty comes as a yardstick of one’s brand value. Despite being the victims, they are forced to remain behind veils and continue to languish in the dark corners. ‘Being forgotten’ becomes their fate. The foremost aim of Sheroes is to reintegrate those into society. SAA is trying to open common Reach-Out Centres as it is not possible to reach every nook of the country. The next project of the campaign would be a community radio service hosted by the survivors.
In the near future, SAA has aspiration to open more cafes in the cities like Delhi, Udaipur, Indore, Varanashi and Mumbai.