Close to the Taj Mahal, in Agra, tucked between small Indian shops is a colorful art café, the Sheroes Hangout. The hangout is run by women who all have in common that they have survived nightmarish acid attacks. Since 2013 Stop Acid Attacks stakes to free India from these crimes. They want survivors to have access to fast justice and fight back the irreparable impact of this crime. Sheroes Hangout is an initiated by Stop Acid Attacks to give the women the confidence to show themselves again with proud in public after being disfigured.
A new wave of Indian feminism evolves at the Sheroes Hangout in Agra. Empowerment of women is brought visible in a form of a restaurant meets readers’ cafe, activism workshops space, community radio hub and exhibit space for works crafted by Sheroes.
After a long way these scarred courageous women define themselves as Sheroes. The cafe was inspired by a similar concept at a beauty salon in Pakistan. Crowd funding helped to get the project in Agra started. The idea is for the women to learn that it is possible to thrive in life even after such a horrible attack.
Shabbo (21, from Mumbai) welcomes us and shows us around in the café. The café is full of books, hand made clothes and a menu full of delicious dishes for which the costumer can pay as they like. Scars snake across Shabbo’s face. Her father threw acid over her and her mother when she was only one month old. As a result of the attack her mother died, her dad went to prison and Shabbo, scarred for life, grew up in a shelter. “I always felt different in the shelter or at school and have always been eager to meet people I can fully relate to.” In the shelter she first heard about Sheroes Café, but it wasn’t until this year that she was able to visit. “It’s such a huge inspiration to finally be here in Agra and see the other women empower themselves and one another.” Shabbo gains as much experience and knowledge from the other women as she can during her two month stay in Agra. In three weeks she goes back to her birth town Mumbai to set up a second Sheroes hangout together with Stop Acid Attacks. “I am so inspired by the women in Agra, how strong they are and determined to make something out of their lives again. It truly is my newfound family. I can’t wait to start the project in Mumbai and be able to inspire other women who lived through similar situations myself.”
Shabbo doesn’t have any contact with her dad anymore and has no idea where he is. That he is a free man again is the only thing she knows. She is in desperate need of her birth certificate as she now can only guess her birthdate and hasn’t got a passport. A new documentary that is made about the Sheroes and acid attacks will maybe help her to find him and the papers. But Shabbo doubts if it will reach her dad and if it does if he will step into public and reach out after what he did to her and her mom.
For more information and to support Stop Acid Attacks donate here
Sheroes Café is open every day from 09:00 to 21:00
Address: Opposite The Gateway Hotel, Taj View Chowraha, Fatehabad Road, Tajganj, Agra, Uttar Pradesh 282001, India