This article was first carried here.
|Sonali with her father.|
It was not difficult to recognise Sonali Mukherjee among the crowd in Dilli Haat as she walked towards this correspondent, guided by a fragile, bespectacled man, her father, Chandi Das Mukherjee. Her face was covered with a red dupatta and she was wearing sunglasses that she bought from a local shop.
"The sunglasses cover my eyes, while the duppata hides my burn scars and the ears," she says.
She was 17 years old when three men threw acid at her on the night of 22 April 2003. "They used to pass lewd comments at me. When I protested they became angry, and one night when I was sleeping, they poured acid on me."
She suffered more than 70% burn injuries, lost both her eyes and can only hear from one ear. Her whole face is disfigured beyond recognition.
Ever since the tragedy, the father-daughter duo have spent most of the last nine years in either seeing doctors or visiting political leaders. Both have given them hope, but it's only the doctors who seem to have fulfilled their promise. "The doctors are doing whatever they can, but no one else is helping me," says Sonali.
She says that after nine years of trying to get financial help for treatment, she now wants mercy killing. "I have gone through 22 surgeries and have already spent Rs 8 lakh. My father, who worked as a watchman, sold off the land and jewellery we had. My mother has lost her mental balance. Now the whole burden has become unbearable."
Sonali rues the false commitments of help given by political leaders from her state, Jharkhand.
However, according to her father, some help is finally trickling in. "Famous lawyer Ram Jethmalani called me and gave Rs 1.49 lakh. Small donations are also coming in. But I need Rs 15 lakh for the surgery. Please publish my account number so that your readers can help us."
Chandi Das Mukherjee appears dejected and perpetually lost. "I have lost faith in everything. What was my daughter's fault? Those who are responsible for her condition are enjoying a normal life. They just spent a little more than three years in prison before they were granted bail," he said.
At the time of the incident, Sonali was an undergraduate student of sociology at a Dhanbad college. Just few months before the incident, she received an award from the hands of the then Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit for being the best NCC cadet. But everything changed in a matter of minutes.
The three accused, Kapas Mitra, Sanjay Paswan and Brahmdev Hazra, were from a neighbouring village. In 2007, Paswan and Hazra were granted bail. While the third accused, Mitra, was shown to be a minor and hence was released much earlier.
According to Chandi Das, money was used at every stage of the case. "Justice was bought and sold. My own lawyer, who was my relative, took money from the accused and weakened our case."
Last week, the Mukherjees met Union Women and Child Development Minister Krishna Tirath, who promised them assistance. They have not heard anything from her since then.
Bank account details of Chandi Das Mukherjee:
Punjab National Bank
Nauroji Nagar Branch,
IFSC code: PUNB006120