She's survived an acid attack and sexual assault. Devanshi Yadav may just be the real-life Wonder Woman
“Since I’ve started sharing my truth, people have been telling me their stories. The 14-year-old me is now healing”
When Devanshi Yadav was in the 10th grade, she survived an acid attack. Adding insult to horrifying injury, she had to endure comments from classmates like ““Humne bola tha na, shorts pehen ke kyun jaati thi coaching ke liye (We told you earlier also, why would you wear shorts and go for coaching classes)? Why did you make male friends in school?”
But looking at Yadav today, a proud mother who chose to adopt a child despite being single, a fighter who routinely raises her voice for the less fortunate, you can’t help but marvel at the power of human resilience. ‘Turn your pain into your power and that power will guide you in living your true purpose’, writes Yadav.
This is her inspiring story.
My father was in the police department. He was martyred in a terrorist bomb blast when I was just nine months old. My mother was a 25-year-old housewife. They’d been together for a year before we lost him. She could have easily gone back to her parents, but my grandfather encouraged her to get a job, and she joined the same police department as my dad. To live the kind of life she has, with so much integrity and conviction, I got my strength from watching her. Whether it was the acid attack, sexual assault or domestic violence – now I understand ki kaise I got all that courage to overcome it.
I was in the 10th when a boy started stalking me. He asked me out and I said no. He was in a different school but would still stand outside mine every day after chhutti and even in the mornings. He started calling me and harassing me, but I ignored it. I only told my best friend about it. She’d say chal, theek hai, just ignore it. We were both so young. We didn’t know any better. You’re so scared of your parents at that age.
Even with my mom in the police department, I was scared to tell her what was happening. I used to go to school with a guard in the police gypsy. Even then this guy would follow me on his bike.
The acid attack happened in the evening. I had gone to the temple with my friend. I still remember that I had flowers in my hand. We were walking together towards the car, my guard was waiting there. You know that feeling when you’re walking and a car or bike is coming up behind you, you can see it in your peripheral vision and you automatically look back to see what it is. Mujhe laga ki kuch bike ya kuch aa raha hai left side se aur maine peeche ki taraf dekha (It felt as if a bike was coming up behind me and I turned to see it).
There were two boys on a bike. The one seated at the back had a big bottle in his hand without a lid on it. It looked like a cold drink but it was wrapped up in a newspaper. When he threw the acid maine left side ko turn kiya away from him (I turned away from him). Jaise usne pheka voh pain itna tha ki ek second ke liye mujhe pata bhi nahin chala ki hua kya hai (When he threw the acid the pain was so intense that for a second I didn’t know what happened). Maine socha ki yeh paani aise kaun phekega mere upar (I wondered why someone would throw water on me)? It didn’t even occur to me that it was an acid attack. I fainted in pain, and my clothes melted onto my back. Because of my hair, my eye was just about saved.
The boys dropped the bottle and ran away. My friend called the guard, and they took me to the hospital. I was hospitalised for a month. I don’t remember a large part of it, just that I used to scream when the treatments were happening.
With time and treatment, the scars physically healed, but I was scared to walk outside my house. I didn’t want to answer my board exams. My mom and my best friend convinced me to just do it and get it over with. The perpetrator’s family was absconding but the police tracked him down and we took legal action. I faced him and asked, why did you do it? I understand rejection is hard but is it that big of a reason to literally burn someone alive? All he said was, “Meri nahin, toh kisi ki nahin (If you can’t be mine, then you can’t be anyone else’s either).” Even then he had the audacity to say that.
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I left Bareilly for Delhi after 10th grade. After living in my school’s hostel for my 11th grade, I wanted to move to a family friend’s home for class 12. But he was an alcoholic. My mom didn’t want me to stay there, but I somehow felt safe — it felt like being in a family.
He started acting very strange towards me, there were red flags, but at that age, I didn’t know what to say and to whom. One night, when his kids had gone to their mother’s home, he sexually assaulted me. I locked myself in the washroom. I just knew agar usko laga that I survived, then he would kill me. He was that drunk. He kept banging on the door all night long. When I heard him go to his room for a few minutes, I ran for my life.
Whenever these kinds of things happen, I know my dad is protecting me.
I called my friends, but I didn’t tell them what happened. You get scared about what people will say. “Tujhe pehele nahin samajh aaya (Didn’t you get it earlier)?” “Tum vahaan rehete hi kyun thi (Why did you even live there)?”
I’ve faced a lot of victim-blaming. When the acid attack happened, girls in my class came to me and said, “Humne bola tha na, shorts pehen ke kyun jaati thi coaching ke liye (We told you earlier also, why would you wear shorts and go for coaching classes)? Why did you make male friends in school?”
When the sexual assault happened, I went back to Bareilly. I had scars all over my body. Mom would ask what happened, but I didn’t tell her at first. By the time I broke down and told her, I learnt that this man did the same thing to his biological daughter. She called me and said, “Didi, this is happening, what should I do?” He had to be stopped.
You don’t think that these things happen in families like this. These are people who are socially and financially well off, they’re well educated. Bahar jaate hain toh mask laga ke kitne ache se milte hain, lekin darvazon ke peeche kya hota hai we don’t know (People present themselves so well, but you don’t know what’s happening behind closed doors).
People say, don’t go out after 8 PM, stay at home. What do you do when the safe space isn’t safe anymore? Where the hell are we safe then?
The whole family came together, they were beyond furious and we confronted this man. He denied it at first, of course, but we had our stories and experiences.
I made the decision then ki kuch toh karna hai. I’ve always had an inclination towards social work and doing some good for society. I got my NGO registered when I was around 26, and haven’t looked back since.
I work with underprivileged children and victims of domestic violence. It can be a lot to take in. We’ve fought for other women and filed cases through the NGO. The energy and strength to fight come from looking back at my 14- and 18-year-old self who was suffering in silence and didn’t have the courage to take a stand. I didn’t have people who told her ki koi baat nahin hai, teri galti nahin hai (It wasn’t your fault, don’t worry). Tu galat nahin hai, voh insaan galat hai jisne yeh kiya hai (You weren’t to blame, the person who did this was).
Even now, if someone calls me at 2 AM, I wake up and listen to everything, even if legally, I can’t do anything for them. I remember all those nights I was awake, not knowing whom to talk to.
Four years ago I adopted my daughter, Vanmayi, as a single mom. When I told my mother that I wanted to adopt a child, she was on board. My grandmother was a little apprehensive — who would accept or marry me after this?
My friends thought I was crazy for putting myself through this process, I should get married and have biological children if I was so baby crazy.
My mom was there with me through all the legal adoption proceedings. She’s the best nani in the world. Before my grandmother passed away, she got to meet my daughter and bond with her.
The day my daughter called me mama, joh kuch bhi hua, the sexual assault, acid attack, loneliness and victim-shaming, voh sab uss din khatam ho gaya in my mind (it was resolved in my mind). Nothing else mattered.
I experienced domestic violence (here’s how you can spot the signs of domestic violence), but we’re no longer together. You could say I’m a single mom of six now, actually. I was working on a dance project with an NGO in Uganda. I found my other children there. It all happened so quickly. It went from one child to three, four, and now I’m a sponsor mom to five kids there. Vanmayi now has siblings and we’re planning to visit them this year.
I do plan on adopting another child. I don’t want Vanmayi to be an only child. Dono maze mein rahenge, chalte rahenge ek saath.
I was scared at first to share my experiences with people because of how judgemental society can be. Jabse I’ve started sharing my truth with the world, a lot of people send me messages, telling me their stories and it’s been so heartening. It almost feels like therapy. Like the 14-year-old me is now healing.
As told to Sara Hussain.
Click here if you’d like to know more and contribute to the NGO work done by Devanshi Yadav.