On the night of April 22, 2003, three men, who couldn’t take a ‘no’ for an answer to their sexual advances towards the 17-year-old Sonali Mukherjee, threw acid on her, leaving her face disfigured. This even impaired her ability to hear. Sonali has come a long way since then. From battling numerous surgeries in these twelve years and going from wanting to end her life and finding the love of her life, here’s a timeline outlining her bitter-sweet journey so far.
Life before the attack:
“I get very emotional every time I think of what my life was like 10 years ago. I had a lot of dreams then. I was extremely active in sports and good at studies. I was doing my sociology honours and was an NCC cadet. I had just enrolled in a computer class and was planning to pursue my PhD. Illiteracy was rampant in Dhanbad, where I had grown up. I was determined to become a teacher. That was 10 years ago. Today, I need help to just get out of my bed and walk,” Sonali told Healthntrends in her interview in 2012.
The night of the attack:
“From 2002 to 2003, three men from my neighbourhood followed me, teased me and made sexual advances. One day, I mustered up the courage to warn them that I would report them to the police. They threatened me, ‘Bohot masti hai tujhme. Aisa sabak sikhayenge, tu apna chehra bhi nahi dikha sakhegi’ (We will teach you such a lesson that you won’t be able to look at your own face). I just brushed it off. A few days later, on April 22, 2003, at 2 am, as I lay asleep on my terrace, the men threw acid on me. I screamed and blanked out,” Sonali revealed to Healthntrends.
Life post the attack:
“For over a year after the attack, I was unconscious for most part of the day because the doctors would keep me sedated. The pain was too much to bear and I would wake up screaming. I had no energy and bled everywhere. I had 70 per cent burns on my body, I had lost sight in both my eyes, I was partially deaf, because my right ear had got burnt, my mouth was mangled, and I had to be fed through a tube. I couldn’t even express my sorrow to anybody because I couldn’t talk. Every day I prayed to god to let me die.”
In July 2012, desperation drove Sonali to beg for mercy killing. “This is my last resort. If the government cannot help me, they should at least allow me to die with dignity,” she reasoned.
In national news:
The media took notice of Sonali and her plight when she filed a petition for mercy. This also drew attention from various NGOs who offered donations for her treatment and surgeries. The then Jharkhand Chief Minister Arjun Munda also offered her a government job.
Punishing the guilty:
While the three men were arrested soon after the attack, they were released just three years after on bail. They were finally sentenced to nine years in jail but Sonali wasn’t content. “Since there is no separate section to deal with acid attacks, I have appealed to get stronger sections dealing with sexual harassment and attempt to murder imposed on them, so that their punishment will be more rigorous.” Sonali hasn’t lost hope. She has been fighting the court case against the three accused.
Meeting her soulmate
Chittaranjan Tiwari, an electrical engineer from Jamshedpur, learnt about Sonali after she appeared in Kaun Banega Crorepati. Sonali won Chhittaranjan over with her courage and confidence and he soon extended a friendship request proposal on her Facebook. “Nine months ago he contacted me through social media and we began speaking over the telephone. He part-funded my treatment from his salary as well. We met for the first time five months ago and he later proposed marriage,” Sonali revealed in an interview to a national daily.
“My life had come to a standstill but Chhittaranjan has brought me back the joy and happiness which was lacking,” Sonali told reporters after coming out of the court.
The road ahead:
The marriage with proper rituals has been scheduled for later this month and while her parents were very happy about the marriage, her husband’s relatives are partly supportive. “I hope to win them over with love and humility,” she said in an interview. Apart from this, she also needs to raise another Rs 8.5 lakh before the next round of surgeries can progress.
Healthntrends congratulates the couple and wishes them a happy married life.