Sonia Sheikh- acid attack survivor from Hyderabad
Sonia SheikhCreative commons

Two years after she faced the horrific trauma of a gangrape and acid attack, Sonia Sheikh – a transgender woman from Hyderabad – will finally receive compensation from the government.

A magistrate court in Telangana, on Friday, June 9, ordered the District Legal Services Authority (DLSA) to initiate compensation process for Sonia Sheikh- a transgender woman from Hyderabad who was gang-raped and thrown acid at, two years back. The compensation, which is expected to reach her this month, will act as a great financial relief for her.

The horrific incident took place back in May 2015 when she used to dance in events to earn a living. Since the attack, Sonia had remained dependent on her mother who is 65 and works as an attendant at a local madrassa. "My father is no more. Since I can't even go out, my younger sister took up a job of working at someone's house," she says.

These paltry salaries have been the only help for the family of six that includes Sonia, her mother and four sisters who live in a rented house. The attack had shaken the whole family but it firmly stood by Sonia's side. Apart from the treatment cost, there were other expenses that had to be taken care of.

"I used to be the breadwinner of the house, but for nearly two years I have been fully dependent on my family. Now, I want to support them," Sonia said.

Recalling her life before the attack, she said: "I used to be beautiful back then. I could dance and earn and provide for my family. I can't do that anymore. But I want to start my own business now. I want run a salon and start earning again. My family has looked after me for long. Now it's my turn."

"She cannot go out in the sun because her skin will burn. But she cannot be sitting in the house either. She does not have the luxury to do that," said Vyjayanti Vasanta Mogli, a corporate professional and a founder member of Telangana Hijra Intersex Transgender Samity.

Vyjayanti and a group of their friends have been helping Sonia seek legal and medical aid for herself. Sonia has undergone three surgeries already will have to go through two more two more before she gets back to normal.

"The first surgery is usually a life-saving one and not a cosmetic or reconstructive one. But even after the first operation she was not able to chew food, and could only consume liquids through a straw. She wasn't able to close her eyelids. How can a person sleep without closing their eyelids? After the next two surgeries, she's at least been able to close her eyelids, but still has problems chewing," Vyjayanti said.

Reports say that Sonia yet to receive a copy of magistrate's order and hence does not know how much compensation she will receive. Although a minimum of Rs 3 lakh is expected.

Three SC judgements — Laxmi vs Union of India, Parivartan Kendra vs Union of India and Ravada Sasikala vs State of Andhra Pradesh — have laid down basic guidelines for governments to provide compensation to acid attack survivors, explained Vyjayanthi.

The survivors are to be given a minimum of Rs 3 Lakh as compensation for trauma that they experienced. Secondly, the additional cost for the reconstructive surgeries should be borne by the government. And thirdly, the government needs to make sure that the survivors receive the required training and job opportunities to attain financial independence.

Most acid attack victims are women who come from poor family backgrounds. They are usually unaware of the law and the private hospitals take advantage of their ignorance, Vyjayanthi added.

Some of Sonia's treatment is being crowd funded via an online campaign launched by an NGO Make Love Not Scars, working with acid-attack survivors. The campaign has raised more than Rs 3 lakh for her against their target of Rs 10 lakh.