The Sheroes Hangout is a small cafe almost easy to drive past on the the main strip in Agra, India. Here customers can come read books, enjoy refreshments and purchase memorabilia. All profits are donation based and go towards the Sheroes foundation.
A Sheroe's Purpose
MARCH 11, 2017
Once this idea of bringing positivity to the forefront and finding inspiration became a focus of mine, it was only a matter of days before I came across an article, on Facebook of all places!! As I began reading about this diamond in the rough, I was immediately inspired. The Sheroes Hangout is a cafe run solely by survivors of acid attacks. What a concept. Something so simple yet profound created to do nothing more than spread awareness. This article certainly woke me up and I was going to find a way to meet these women.
Ironically, I was in the process of planning my first ever visit to the Taj Mahal! The Taj Mahal sits in a city called Agra, the same city where the first Sheroes Hangout is located! Right then I knew that the Taj Mahal was not going to be the only stop on my trip to Agra.
Here is a little background on the Sheroes Hangout. Agra location is one of 3 locations; the other two are located in Lucknow and Udaipur. Each cafe's patronage allows the foundation, the Chhanv Foundation, to pay the employees' salaries and rent as well as treat and rehabilitate new members so they can re-enter society. The Chhanv Foundation was started in 2013 by Alok Dixit and 3 friends after learning about these attacks. They started their mission by crowd funding on behalf of the victims and following their stories on various news platforms. Through their crowd funding efforts they were able to publicize this pandemic. The campaign aimed to make anyone who would listen, including the victims themselves, aware that these attacks happen all across India and the world. They wanted to encourage the survivors to come out in the open and not be embarrassed simply because of their new appearance. Many of the women who became members of the foundation later on said that they were never aware that many other women were just like them.
The foundation is now up to 20 survivors, most of whom are employed by the 3 cafes. The others are receiving an education or being treated for their injuries. It is not always easy to join the foundation however. Some women are still stuck in their homes not able to join for various reasons. The foundation continues its work to help these women leave their homes and rejoin society. To this day, we hear about these attacks more frequently than not. Just a couple of weeks before my visit, on January 9th, there were 2 attacks on boys in Udaipur. That's right, even boys are subject to these crimes. Learning this fact confirmed that this crime has no rhyme or reason. It is a senseless, inhumane act that will never have an explanation that makes sense to anyone with a sane mind.
Even as I learned about these stories I never had a personal connection to them. The timing of my learning of this foundation and my trip to see the Taj Mahal seemed like destiny. I had to go meet with these women. This visit allowed me to not only make personal connections with these women but has now motivated me to learn more.
In the sound clip below one of the women was explaining that she no longer likes to be referred to as a "survivor". She is just a normal girl who wants to live a normal life.
Don't Call Me a "Survivor"
It was a lucky day for me the day I visited the cafe because it was virtually empty. Empty was good because I then had the women's undivided attention when I requested to take pictures and interview them. I began by taking candid pictures of them while they played carrom. I slowly started asking questions about themselves when they asked me to sit down with them. At this point, I was able to speak more in depth with 3 women who each had some poignant things to share...