Federico Borella Photojournalist
Sheroes - After the acid attack
The Sheroes Hangout Cafe is not a place like any other. It’s unique in the world. Customers are served coffee, of course, but the women who work there have a history of pain in their past. All of them are victims of acid attacks. It'is situated in a tourist area of Agra, known worldwide for the Taj Mahal, the tribute of a Mughal Emperor to his wife. But it represents another side of the relationships between men and women. The violence, that when it doesn't cause death, it’s life changing. Founded in December 2014 by the Stop Acid Attacks campaign 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 an acquaintance, or a neighbor.
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 her cousin, because of a dispute between two families for the ownership of some land.
For Ritu, Dolly, and their friends, Rupa, Neetu and Gita, who also work at the Cafè, Sheroes Hangout, the name born from the merger of the words ‘She’ and ‘Heroes’, is a safe haven, and at the same time, it’s a new, second family. The place that has changed their lives, built to send the world a clear message: stop acid attacks.
Starting from the Uttar Pradesh State, where Agra is located, and where, during the last years, took place many episodes of violence against women. According to the Acid Survivors Foundation India (ASFI), last year, all around the country, 349 people, mostly women, had acid thrown on them in deliberate assaults, and more than a hundred cases happened in the Uttar Pradesh. But that's just the tip of the iceberg, because many victims don't find the courage to report what they have suffered. And that's why the Sheroes Hangout was born.