Laxmi Agarwal (born 1 June 1990) is an Indian acid attack survivor, a campaigner for rights of acid attack victims, and a TV host.
Laxmi Agarwal was attacked in 2005 in New Delhi at the age of 15, after rebuffing the romantic advances of Naeem Khan. Her story, among others, was told in a series on acid attack victims by Hindustan Times. She has since established grassroots campaigns for tackling the surge of acid attacks; one of her petitions has led the Supreme Court to order the central and state governments to regulate the sale of acid and the Parliament to enable easier prosecutions of acid attack perpetrators. She was the former director of Chhanv Foundation, a NGO dedicated to help acid attack survivors in India
Laxmi was born in New Delhi in a poor family.
She was approached by a family acquaintance, Naeem Khan, a man in his early thirties, whose romantic advances she did not respond to. He subsequently attacked her with acid.
Agarwal, whose face and other body parts were disfigured in the acid attack, had public interest litigation (PIL) in 2006. A minor then, she was attacked with acid by three men near Tughlaq road in New Delhi as she had refused to marry Naeem Khan, known as Gudda, one of the trio. Her PIL sought framing of a new law, or amendment to the existing criminal laws like IPC, Indian Evidence Act and CrPC, for dealing with the offence, besides asking for compensation. She also pleaded for a total ban on sale of acid, citing an increasing number of incidents of such attacks on women across the country.
During a hearing in April, the Centre assured the Supreme Court of India that it would work with the state governments to formulate a plan before the next hearing on 9 July. However, it failed to do so, which angered the court. However, when the Centre failed to produce a plan, the Supreme Court warned that it would intervene and pass orders if the government failed to frame a policy to curb the sale of acid in order to prevent chemical attacks. “Seriousness is not seen on the part of the government in handling the issue,” the bench headed by Justice RM Lodha said. Earlier, in February, the court had directed the centre to convene in six weeks a meeting of Chief Secretaries of all states and union territories to hold discussion for enacting a law to regulate the sale of acids and policy for treatment, compensation and care and rehabilitation of such victims.
Meanwhile, in 2013, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Agarwal and Rupa’s plea, thereby creating a fresh set of restrictions on the sale of acid. Under the new regulations, acid could not be sold to any individual below the age of 18 years. One is also required to furnish a photo identity card before buying acid.
Agarwal claims that not much has changed on the ground, despite all the regulations. “Acid is freely available in shops. Our own volunteers have gone and purchased acid easily. In fact, I have myself purchased acid,” she said. “We have launched a new initiative called ‘Shoot Acid’. By means of the Right to Information Act, we are trying to acquire data concerning the sale of acid in every district. We intend to present the information collected through this initiative before the Supreme Court to apprise them of the situation on the ground.
Agarwal was in a relationship with social activist Alok Dixit. However, she has been separated from her partner since 2015, When they were together, Dixit decided not to get married and instead opted to be in a live-in relationship. “We have decided to live together until we die. But we are challenging society by not getting married. We don’t want people to come to our wedding and comment on Laxmi’s looks. The looks of a bride are most important for people. So we decided not to have any ceremony,” said Dixit. Their families have accepted the relationship and also their decision not to have a ceremonial wedlock
Hunger strike and campaign against acid violence
Agarwal and other acid attack survivors started a hunger strike demanding immediate justice and rehabilitation for acid attack survivors. She wrote a poem describing her situation during the incident.
While she was in the United States to receive the International Women of Courage award, she was praised by the then USA first lady Michelle Obama and others for her campaign against acid violence.
In popular culture
She starred in the 2014 short documentary Newborns directed by Megha Ramaswamy as herself.