Though difficult to believe, the Acid Survivors Trust International (ASTI), a London-based charity, reports that there are approximately 1,500 such acid attacks around the world each year.
Suffering severe burns and disfigurement which literally dissolved here eyelids, nose, mouth and ears, leaving Sonali partially blind and deaf, she became a recluse in her own home because the expense of reconstructive surgery was beyond her family’s finances.
Eventually Sonali’s attackers were caught and convicted, spending just three years in prison before being released.
For nine years, Sonali Mukherjee’s life was a living hell, devastated to such a degree that she begged the Indian government to let her kill herself rather than live “half a life with half a face.”
Then, last week Sonali’s life changed thanks to “Kaun Banega Crorepati.” We know it in the
In 2008, a movie titled “Slumdog Millionaire” told the story of a teenager from the slums of Mumbai who becomes a contestant on “Kaun Banega Crorepati.” When he displays incredible overall knowledge he is arrested because he is suspected of cheating. During the investigation, the events from his life begin to uncover the reasons why he is able to answer the questions.
Though hardly the same set of circumstances for Sonali Mukherjee, the real-life parallels between her and the “slumdog” captured the imagination of an appreciative and empathetic Indian population.
Guided to the set by popular Bollywood film star and game host, Amitabh Bachchan along with former Miss Universe Lara Dutta, Sonali’s celebrity teammate, the 27-year old acid victim received a standing ovation from the audience. Wearing sunglasses and a red scarf around her head to cover her face, Mukherjee conjured images of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Phantom of the Opera” as she answered an eclectic array of questions en route to winnings of 2.5 million rupees.
By American standards Sonali’s earnings of slightly more than $45,000 might seem insignificant compared to the million dollar prize in the
As Mukherjee said in The Times of India, “I’ve had 22 operations and nine more are remaining, so that at least my eyes and ears are functional. If I recover, I want to help people like me. In my nine years of struggle, I have faced a lot. I know the kind of difficulties we have to face, with no help from any quarter.”
Now a national celebrity in
First Mukherjee must deal with other challenges. She will use her winnings to complete the remaining surgeries that will complete her physical battle. Mentally and emotionally Sonali’s challenges may be considerably longer, a lifetime, in fact.
Thankfully, Sonali Mukerjee’s world has gone from despair to hope, knowing that she is now in a position to make a difference by creating awareness about a horrible and vicious crime that goes largely unnoticed by the rest of the world.
Sonali Mukerhjee’s “acid test” has defeated her attackers. She has become the “face” of victory.
Reuters News Agency contributed to this account
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