US First Lady Michelle Obama has felicitated Indian acid attack victim Laxmi after she won the International Women of Courage Award for successfully leading the campaign against acid attacks on women in India.
Obama and the large crowd at the State Department auditorium was moved and touched when Laxmi, a standard-bearer of the movement to end acid attacks, recited a poem recounting her experience on the occasion yesterday.
"You haven't thrown acid on my face; you threw it on my dreams. You didn't have love in your heart; you had acid in it," Laxmi recited soon after receiving the prestigious award along with several other women from different parts of the world including Afghanistan and Fiji.
The original poem was in Hindi.
Laxmi was 16 when an acquaintance threw acid on her face while she waited at a bus stop in New Delhi's busy Khan Market in 2005, disfiguring her permanently.
Her attacker, a friend's 32-year-old brother, threw the acid to destroy Laxmi's face after she refused to respond to his romantic advances.
Recognition for her effort through this award, is a great encouragement and motivation for the girls and women of India, many of whom still are not able to speak out against the atrocities inflicted upon them, Laxmi said soon after receiving the award.
"After this award, girls of India would think, if Laxmi can do this, I can also raise my voice against injustice," Laxmi told PTI in an interview.
Last year, Nirbhaya, the courageous 23-year-old girl whose brutal gang rape and murder on a moving bus in Delhi in December 2012 triggered widespread protests, was honoured with the award.
Ruing that acid is still being sold without following the recent Supreme Court order in this regard; Laxmi demanded the creation of a high level committee at the national level to prevent acid attacks against women.
"Victims of acid attacks not only be given compensation, but also the entire medical expense be meted by the Government. The victim should be given a government job and given justice through fast track courts," Laxmi said and urged the political parties to incorporate this in their election manifesto for the forthcoming elections.
"There was never any love in your eyes. They burn me with caustic glance. I am sad that your corrosive name will always be the part of my identity that I carry with this face. Time will not come to my rescue. Every Thursday will remind me of you," Laxmi said reciting her poem with the First Lady and other top US officials on the dais.
"When we see these women raise their voices and move their feet and empower others to create change, we need to realise that each of us has that same power and that same obligation," the First Lady said in her speech.
"And as I learned about this year’s honorees and I thought about how we could support their work, I realised that for most of these women, there is a common foundation for their efforts. It's a foundation of education," she said.
Observing that she always walks away feeling inspired by these women, determined to reflect their courage in her own life, Obama said she is not alone in that feeling because every day with every life they touch and every spirit they raise, these women are creating ripples that stretch across the globe.
"Last year on this stage, we honoured the memory of a tremendous young Indian woman known simply as Nirbhaya. This tragedy sparked outrage and inspired people all over the world to come together to say no more looking the other way when gender-based violence happens, no more stigma against victim or survivors," said Deputy Secretary of State, Heather A Higginbottom.
"That is also the message of Laxmi from India. Acid attacks are committed almost exclusively on women, particularly on young women," she said.
"Many of the victims feel they have no choice but to withdraw from society or even commit suicide, and they're more common than you might realise, in part because it's such an easy weapon to get your hands on. Until recently, anyone could walk into a store and buy a litre of acid as cheaply and as easily as a bottle of window cleaner," she said.
"But after her attack, Laxmi became a tireless campaigner against acid attacks. Thanks to her hard work and tremendous diligence, Laxmi was successful in petitioning the Supreme Court to order the Indian government to regulate the sale of acid and to make prosecutions of acid attacks easier to pursue. And she continues to push for progress still today," she said.
"For fearless advocacy on behalf of victims of acid attacks and for bringing hope to survivors of gender-based violence and disfigurement, we name Laxmi a Woman of Courage," Higginbottom said.