Photography by Marina George

“I was sleeping with a blanket over my face, and felt it being pulled off me. He poured raw acid directly on my head and body. Then he lit a match and set me on fire and ran – all I could see were orange flames. I ran outside, burning, screaming for help, but nobody responded. I ran back to the bathroom, threw water on my face, and then ran to my cousin’s house. He was terrified when he finally saw what had happened to my face – my hair was all burnt, skin was peeling off my face and hands. I looked white because my skin was melting. When I saw the orange flames I had known it was fire, after I put the flames out I touched my skin and it felt tight, like stone. I had been sleeping with my arms covering my eyes – this had prevented the acid from blinding me. My husband had brewed the lethal acid. The doctors said it was highly concentrated and severely toxic. In some places, I had been burnt to the bone and there was little flesh left. I told my mother I did not want to live, because I was in so much pain. I was in a very bad state for months. I returned home after three months of hospitalisation and three surgeries, and then did not step outside for nearly a year. Only my son looked at me because he recognised my voice, and he was so young that he wasn’t afraid of my burn scars. After a year and half, I started going out irregularly and wore a scarf to cover my face. I couldn’t go outside without it. Now I don’t feel uncomfortable stepping outside without it, I’ve grown used to the way I look. It has been five years since this occurred. My husband went to jail. I was living alone in my rented house with my son, dealing with a lot of financial stress. My husband and his family had hired a lawyer and tried to pay me money to not testify. I initially refused to take his money, but I needed a house and money for my child’s school expenses. My husband’s family arranged a place for me to stay shortly after, on the condition that I would not testify harshly against him. They promised that they would give me a place to stay once he was released. I just wanted to move on with my life and leave him and the situation behind. I told all of this to him while he was in jail. After he was released, his family did not hold up their part of the deal. Because of my finances, and in order to take care of my son, I had to agree to move back in with my husband.

I would caution all girls to avoid situations like my own, and I hope with government help we can stop acid attacks.”

– Kavita Shetty, India 2017