Acid attack survivor Pramodini Roul entered into wedlock with her fiancé Saroj Kumar Sahoo in Odisha’s Jagatsinghpur district, calling it the “best day of her life”. The wedding was solemnised in the presence of her family members and 20 acid attack survivors associated with an NGO.
Roul, who had suffered a brutal acid attack in 2009 at the hands of a jilted lover, was undergoing treatment for five years at SCB Medical College and Hospital in Cuttack. Her face was completely scarred and the attack left her blind in both eyes.
In a society that stigmatises acid attack victims, Roul considers herself lucky to have found a partner like Sahoo. "In a society where the face of a girl is considered important for marriage, I could never dream of it. I wanted to marry with the consent of both our families, and it happened," she told the media.
From being bedridden to chasing the culprit and putting him behind bars, Roul displayed exemplary courage in getting her life back on track.
The horrid incident
One of the three daughters of a widow, Roul was pursuing her education at a local college, when an army jawan Santosh Vedant Kumar allegedly threw acid on her face after she refused his marriage proposal.
Roul’s family did not approve of the offer, as she was too young and they wanted her to complete her education.
Miffed with rejection, the man allegedly continued to stalk her and on May 4, 2009, he threw acid on her face, when Roul was only a teenager, leaving 80 percent of her body scarred and her lower body paralysed.
"I was 17. I’d dreamt of being independent and supporting my family but my life felt like a joke. All because I refused a boy’s offer? He was a well-educated boy from the army. A man whom we trusted to protect us had ruined my life," Roul wrote on her Facebook page a few days ago.
Roul had filed an FIR, but the case was closed in 2012, after the police cited ‘no clue’ as a reason. While the accused lived a normal life with his wife and child in Kupwara, Roul spent five years bedridden in a hospital.
When Roul met Sahoo
It was during her treatment at SCB in 2014 when Roul met Sahoo, a medical representative from Balakti area of Bhubaneswar. One of his friends who was a nurse at the hospital wanted him to understand the problems faced by acid attack victims. Sahoo attempted to speak to Roul, but she was hesitant to speak with him.
"So he’d speak to Maa instead. I had no vision, but whenever I’d hear Maa chuckle, I knew it was Saroj. Honestly, I really appreciated him for that. Fufaji refused to help. In fact, the few times he visited, he’d say things like, ‘Injection deke maar do usse’ (give her some injection and let her die). He’d say it to my face. To him, I was already dead. Every night, I’d pray for death. I no longer had dreams or goals. I’d forgotten how to laugh. But I felt the worst about Maa – instead of relieving her stress, I had added to it. My nurse friend and Saroj tried to help us, but we couldn’t just take money from them," Roul wrote in her Facebook post.
Roul’s friends had all abandoned her after her attack, so she was curious to know why this man who she didn’t even know, paid frequent visits.
“He’d gotten my address from his nurse friend. He brought along my favourite chocolates and Maa’s favourite motichoor ladoos. But I was still wary of men. Once when Maa was away, I had peed in the bed. Without hesitation, he cleaned it up. I hugged him and cried. It’s the most vulnerable I’d ever felt. I asked him, ‘Why are you doing all this?’ and he simply replied, ‘Har kaam ke peeche reason nahi hota’ (there isn't a reason behind every action). I felt so close to him that day, I wish I could see him. Gingerly, I touched his face, hoping to map it out for myself,” wrote Roul.
Sahoo quit his job as a medicine representative to take care of Roul. After she recovered, Roul joined the Sheroes’ help desk, a cafe run by acid attack survivors in Lucknow in 2015.
Getting back on her feet
Sahoo had proposed to Roul in 2016, but her blindness had prevented her from seeing him. In July 2017, she underwent an eye surgery, and her vision was partially restored. The next year, on Valentine’s Day, the two got engaged at Sheroes, where she started her first job and found a new life.
Roul would have never got justice, if she hadn’t started collecting evidence against the accused. The case gained traction on social media, following which Odisha’s Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik met her and initiated the re-opening of the case. Kumar was arrested in September 2017, and has been behind bars since then.
"It’s strange that it took two men to change the course of my life. One, a man in a uniform who took an oath of ‘service before self’, who couldn’t comprehend a simple ‘NO’ from a girl. And another, a simpleton who saw a girl in her most vulnerable state, became her biggest support and pushed her to be the best version of herself. But most importantly, who waited for her to be ready," added Roul.
(Edited by Amrita Ghosh)