Unlike other acid attack victims, Reshma’s scars are not visible. This is because acid was thrown on her stomach and private parts. Her life story unveils a gory tale of the most inhuman act that can be perpetrated on another human being. Angry with her for giving birth to five daughters and refusing to undergo a sex determination test when she was pregnant the sixth time, it was her husband Usman who threw acid on Reshma. The act done with utter vengeance, anger seething with frustration appears to have no parallels.
Eldest of four siblings, Reshma was born in Kanpur into a poor Muslim family. She was married off at the age of 16, in 1998, to Usman, an auto-rickshaw driver and the only son among two sisters in Lucknow. Right from the first day when she entered the house, Reshma was treated by Usman as an object of sexual gratification. He had made his desire for a son clear on the wedding night itself for he strongly believed that on him lied the responsibility of propagating his lineage.
Thus, when their first daughter was born two years later all hell broke loose. What followed in the days to come was enhanced cruelty and multiple pregnancies. Reshma delivered five daughters and after each delivery she was beaten up and treated worse than an animal. Her health started deteriorating fast, but Usman seemed to care two hoots for that as he wanted a male child at any cost.
Reshma had no option but to bear humiliation and cruelty from not only the husband but from his entire family. Her parents did intervene a few times and came to Lucknow when they learnt of her being ill-treated but poverty and responsibility of other children prevented them from offering any support to her. Reshma was uneducated, knew no skills and could not even think of stepping out of the house without the permission of her husband and in-laws. Taunted, tormented and beaten black and blue everyday was a routine. She accepted this as <Allah’s> will and reconciled to a life unfit for animals.
But then, July 24, 2013 changed everything in her life. Reshma shudders as she recalls that fateful afternoon. During her earlier five pregnancies she was being beaten up for not going in for sex determination tests. When she got pregnant the sixth time, when her eldest daughter was thirteen-years-old, the pressure was even more but she refused to give in.
The violent physical abuse seemed to last for an eternity. Twelve weeks pregnant Reshma bore it all. She was relieved when that day Usman left her and went out of the house. Generally after beating her up he left and did not return home till late night or even the next day. But this time he was back in less than an hour. He was carrying a small cardboard box in his hand. Before Reshma realized what was happening she saw him take out the bottle which had some liquid, abused her for not providing him a son and throw the liquid with force at her stomach. It was agonizing and she started writhing in pain, the burning sensation made her wail like an animal who was being slaughtered. All she could feel was unbearable pain and wails of her daughters. And then all voices faded and she fainted.
For three days she went through spells of unconsciousness and semi consciousness. There was no one to attend to her, no medical aid, no food.
“Mere zakhmo sey pus bah raha tha jo mere kapdo may chipak gaya tha (Puss was oozing out of my wounds which got stuck to my clothes),” said Reshma, wincing at the painful memories.
It was on the third day that news reached her family in Kanpur. They rushed to her aid, horrified at the nearly dead daughter who lay in acute agony before them. They just lifted her up and left for Kanpur.
With no money, Reshma was refused admission in private hospitals and reaching a government in the state she was in was impossible. All through she could feel nothing except excruciating pain.
Her weeping father begged the doctors to have pity on her daughter who was dying. Finally, one doctor paid heed and she was admitted to Haylet hospital. Here too cruel fate intervened. When the doctor’s team found out that she was pregnant, they refused to treat her till husband was called. He was sent for, pleaded and begged to help save Reshma’s life but Usman refused to come. Reshma’s condition started deteriorating fast and the poor parents had no option but to witness their daughter die each minute.
It was then that she decided that she must give life a last shot. She gestured to a press reporter visiting the hospital and managed to utter a few words seeking his help. He helped get the doctors to readmit her and start treatment. The next morning her story was known to the world. Chhanv Foundation, a forum that has been working for acid attack survivors, stepped in and took on her entire responsibility, providing her the best of medical treatment and getting legal action initiated.
Medical investigation revealed that aborting would be a grave threat to her life. It was decided to continue with the pregnancy but with strict medical monitoring. Meanwhile, the foundation filed a legal case against her husband following which he was put behind bars for 17 years.
Reshma’s sixth child was born on February 1, 1994 — a baby boy. Soon after birth he was taken to stay with Reshma’s parents in Kanpur while the daughters stayed put at their paternal house.
Chhanv continues to support Reshma. She was given the job of working as a waitress at Sheroes Café in Lucknow to eke out a livelihood. She was lodged in a shelter home of Mahila Kalyan, where she shares a room with another acid attack survivor.
Reshma is just 35, she has a full life ahead of her but her traumatic past has left deep scars on her soul which fail to heal. Reshma cannot think of spending her life with another man. “Mujsey kaun shaadi kareyga,(who will marry me?)” is how she reacts to a question on her future plans, adding, “Abhi thak to yeh hi hai, (This is how it is till now)”.
But yes, Reshma does have a dream – of one day having a house of her own, big enough for all her six children. Reshma knows she can make this dream come true with hard work. Thanks to the support and shelter given to her by Chhanv, she has developed confidence that makes her believe “ladkiya kuch bhi kar sakti hain (Girls can do anything)”.
And yes she does not forget to express her undying gratitude for journalists too as by telling her story to the world they made it possible for her to get treatment, justice and now encouragement to face society confidently and boldly.