India - Sheroes Hangout Cafe
Acid attack restart
Photos: Federico Borella
The Sheroes Hangout Cafe is a truly unique place. Customers are served coffee as they do everywhere else, but the women working there share a painful past: they all have been victims of acid attacks. The cafe is located in the touristic area of Agra, known worldwide for the Taj Mahal, the loving tribute of a Mughal Emperor to his wife, but it represents the violent side of the relationships between men and women. A violence that, when not leading to death, dramatically change a life. Founded in December 2014 by the NGO Stop Acid Attacks and the Chaanv Foundation, the Sheroes Hangout Cafe is the symbol of a group of women who struggled to rebuild their lives after having been attacked with acid, the aggressions often perpetrated by a family member, or by an acquaintance, or a neighbour.
Like Dolly, 16 years old, disfigured by a man who lived next door to her, and who hit her while he was trying to hurt her sister. Or like Ritu, the victim of a plot orchestrated by 18 people, attacked in the street by two boys riding a motorbike when she was 17. They were paid by a cousin of hers, the reason: a dispute between their families for the ownership of a plot of land.
The Sheroes (a word obtained merging She with Heroes) Hangout Cafe is a safe haven and a new family for Ritu, Dolly, and their friends Rupa, Neetu and Gita - all working there, in the place that changed their life for good, built to send the world a clear message: stop acid attacks.
A message to the world from the Uttar Pradesh state, where Agra is located: a region where many episodes of violence against women took place in the last years. According to the Acid Survivors Foundation India (ASFI), during 2015 in India 249 people, mostly women, had acid thrown on them in deliberate assaults, and more than a hundred of these crimes happened in Uttar Pradesh. But that's just the tip of the iceberg, because many victims don't find the courage to report what they suffered. And that's why the Sheroes Hangout Cafe was born.