In a few weeks, Mumbai activist Kalpana Chowdhary will launch a matrimonial-cum networking app to enable acid attack survivors and physically challenged individuals find partners
It was 11 years ago on April 22, when Lakshmi Saa was on her way to a bookstore in Delhi, where she worked as a saleswoman, that a man tapped her on the shoulder. When she turned, he splashed acid on her face.
LOVE EXISTS FOR ALL: Laxmi Saa with partner Alok Dixit and their child. Saa and Dixit now work for the Stop Acid Attack campaign
For the 15-year-old, life was never the same. The offender was a 32-year-old man who had taken revenge after she spurned his advances and rejected a proposal for marriage. While the offender got married within a month, Saa lost hope of finding a partner. Stepping outside the house meant dealing with stares and comments. “I felt extremely lonely. The idea of love became a hollow one,” says Saa over the phone from Delhi.
It is a reality that most acid attack survivors face. Saa’s partner, former journalist Alok Dixit, whom she met while campaigning against the unregulated sale of acid, says, “There are acid attack survivors who do have boyfriends, but the larger issue of family approvals, ‘what will others say?’, stops many boys from taking the relationship ahead,” says Dixit.
To make it easier for acid attack survivors to find partners, Mumbai-based activist Kalpana Chowdhary, who founded the Jan Seva Foundation in 2012, has decided to launch an app that will allow them to meet potential partners.
“We all need somebody we can have a heart-to-heart conversation with, even if it doesn’t end in marriage,” says Chowdhary. The matrimonial-cum-networking app, called Lagnn will cater mainly to acid attack survivors and physically challenged individuals.
It was in 2011 during an awareness campaign that she was inspired to set up such a platform. “I was at an exhibition where artworks by physically challenged individuals were on display. A young man on a wheelchair came up to me and said, ‘Ma’am I want to get married. Help me.’ Those words brought home the difficulty they face in finding a partner,” she says.
Later, Chowdhary visited cafés in Jaipur and Agra run by acid attack survivors. “Fear of stares or people recoiling at their sight and trying to avert their gaze, prevents them from socialising. This keeps them very lonely,” says Chowdhary.
An app increases accessibility. “The helper in my building is on Whatsapp, which made me realise that the reach of the Internet on your cellphone is immense. So, even if one person in the family has a phone, other members can access it,” she says, adding, “I don’t know of any app of this kind. So this platform will be for people across the world.” While 2015 figures haven’t been released yet, in 2014, there were 309 cases of acid attacks reported in the country. The highest incidence, 186 cases, was recorded in Uttar Pradesh.
An inclusive platform
The app will work along the lines of other matrimonial sites, where you have to register by providing details like name, age, height, weight and gender. The next step will be to share information about oneself —interests, family, education and work. There will be a section on expectations from the partner. Here, specifics, like for instance, if they are looking for a visually or speech disabled partner will be discussed. Uploading pictures will be optional. “Because this a dedicated platform for acid attack survivors and physically challenged individuals, users will certainly feel more comfortable about uploading pictures. The fear that you will be judged for your appearance won’t exist,” says Somil Gupta, Director of Link Online Pvt Ltd, who volunteered to make the app free of cost. As of now, Gupta is expecting 35,000 to 40,000 subscribers in the first year.
The app, Chowdhary says, will even have additional information on the rights, privileges and benefits that they survivors can avail of. “Many aren’t aware that acid attack survivors come under the disabiled category. Last year, the Supreme Court asked state governments to treat acid attack survivors as disabled persons to enable them to get benefits of reservation in government jobs and other social welfare schemes,” says the 35-year-old Vile Parle resident.
“While it is a dedicated platform for those with disabilities, others can also register. They will be able to view profiles, and if interested, will have to send a request to the user. Then, it’s up to the user to accept or reject it,” adds Gupta. The app will be free of cost for the end user, which brings up the question of sustainability. “We are looking for donations from corporates and other sectors, because the real challenge is keeping this project afloat,” he says.