Pragya Prasun Singh – Acid Attack Ambassador
She is a story of a ‘No Option’ life and she turned it around with a heroism that I still cannot get my head around. A mere hot water scalding has us restless in pain…I cannot imagine or dare to imagine what Pragya has gone through. But she not only rose from it herself, she made it her life motto to dedicate herself to help more people suffering the same fate. It takes not just courage, strength, determination to do what she is doing or serve the world as she is doing, but it takes a ‘Heart’… A BRAVEHEART!
Her story is a must read … a MUST READ.
Dear Pragya, first of all, thank you so much for agreeing to do this interview. Can you please tell my readers a bit about you, your upbringing and your family.
I was born in a small town called Dhanbad which is close to Kolkatta. We are 4 siblings and I am the eldest of all. My father was in Coal India and had a transferable job. My native is Varanasi where my parents now stay. In my childhood I have seen my parents helping the needy around them and I use to be furious that my mother is so busy helping and buying things for others but not for us. Now I realise and remember her words which she always use to say “help others and god will help you” . I was always an introvert person till the unfortunate incident happened to me and I realised I need to speak up for myself and my closed ones. As a student I was shy and someone who used to speak very less, but I loved dancing and always tried to participate in programs which gave me an opportunity to dance.
The incident that changed your life…
I was just another happily married woman on 18 April 2006. I was travelling from Varanasi to Delhi in AC three-tier on 30 April 2006 to attend my campus placement interview. Around 2 am I woke up with a burning sensation in my body. Opening my eyes, I could see fumes coming out of my body. Unable to grasp what had happened, I jumped off the third berth, crying for help. People in and around my bogie tried to help me, but no one in the crowd could grasp what exactly was wrong with me from my burnt clothes.
Fortunately, there was a doctor in the next bogie who pronounced that this was no disease or ordinary burn injury and that I had been attacked with acid. The doctor advised my fellow passengers to bathe me with plenty of water. Two passengers were generous enough to escort me to the hospital at Etawah where the train stopped after two hours. The next two days I was unconscious and my only memory is of waking up in the ICU at Safdarjung Hospital, Delhi.
Over the next two years, I underwent nine reconstructive/plastic surgeries and remain without a hairline; I lost vision in my left eye and still have problems with my right eye; I lost my right ear completely and am struggling to keep the hole of the right pinna from contracting. My left arm is burnt and more than half my back and chest is scalded.
I read in one of your conversations that you had no choice but to be strong. But I am sure, this would have needed a herculean effort from your within, your soul, your core. Other than yourself, who else supported you this far?
Adversities help us realize our faithful companion, people who stand by you and embrace you for what you are and be a continuous pillar of support. One of them is my true soul-mate – my husband. When I talk about him, my heart glows! I think every man on earth should be like him – a true gentleman. Not only because he has been by my side all the way but because he respects all and doesn’t hold resentment against anyone.
Inspite of several doctors saying that my life will be full of struggles after this incident and I may not survive. My mother had faith in me that i will come through all this . She knew that I will find a way to survive. How could I let her down…
You are a Mentor, Healer, Activist and Social Worker. You started Atijeevan Foundation. Can you tell us more about the exemplary work that Atijeevan is doing to bring Acid Attack victims back to the mainstream and rehabilitate them.
Beyond my personal struggles, I wanted to help others like me in whatever possible way I could and thus “Atijeevan” came into existence seven years ago. With the help and support of several doctors, nurses, volunteers and philanthropists, Atijeevan has been
able to touch and rejuvenate the lives of more than 250 burn and acid attack survivors so far. Atijeevan’s key focus areas are facilitating reconstructive surgeries and non-surgical cosmetic procedures, counseling survivors for best possible personalised treatment, empowering survivors by educational and vocational training and organizing exhibitions for selling products made by acid attack and Burn Survivors.
As a team our objective is to give all the survivors a fair and equal chance to make their place in the society like any other common, competent and Independent individual does.We are trying to become as a bridge between the survivors and society so that these survivors can travel their journey of life with the same ease, comfort, respect and Opportunities as any common man gets.
For acid attack victims, we need to change the way the society looks at them. Movies like Chhapaak are a small but vital step towards it. But even as the society is slowly working towards broadening its mind, how do you help the victims with the trauma of what they have gone through. Can you please tell us more on how you help them out of the shock and pain of it all.
Our Field workers are survivors themselves and when they counsel the family and patient , there is a better understanding of the treatment and the patient immediately connects. Reviving the life of an acid burn survivor is a challenge but half the battle is won when we are able to provide support in terms of medical and surgical treatment. Survivor rehabilitation does not stop at treatment, as after that they need to find a respectable means of livelihood. This gives them lot of confidence to face the society.
You said prompt action and first aid from a doctor helped you in the very first instance that you were attacked. But not many are as lucky. I am guessing not many people know what to do during an acid attack, as in how to help. What is it that the society and its people can do more to help burn and acid attack victims?
It is very necessary to get a first aid as soon as possible. Otherwise in worst cases the acid penetrates to the bone which could be fatal for patient’s life.
1. The most important First Aid is to immediately wash affected body part of patient with plenty of fresh or saline water
2. Don’t rinse the burn area with dirty water as it can cause severe infection.
3. Keep flushing the affected burn area with plenty of cool water,(not very cold) until the patient’s burning sensation starts fading. It may take 30-45 minutes.
4. Remove all the jewellery or clothing which had contact with acid.
5. Don’t apply any kind of cream, ointment on the affected area as it may slow the treatment procedure by doctors.
And above all don’t just be a bystander!
As part of inclusive society there are so many things I want to tell here..but most important things to keep in mind are –
Treat them fairly and equally when it comes to roles and responsibilities,
Integrate them in workplace celebrations
Demonstrate a supportive attitude. For eg. If they are sitting alone at lunch, do make a kind effort to know them.
Make eye contact when talking with them
Be cognizant of their physical and mental health. Often survivors have to recurring surgeries and suffer from PTSD.
Communicate positively through body language and non verbal cues.
Focus on abilities, what a person can do rather what they cannot do
How do you inspire yourself for such a magnanimous objective? Who are your inspirations?
My daughters !!! – I learn so much from them everyday. And I do things to be an example for them that no matter what happens to you, if you have the will to survive you can thrive !! Survivors and their success stories are my inspiration too!!!
Leave us with one thought that has got you this far, accomplishing all that you have and the way you have risen as a spirited soul.
The only thing driving me is my simple thought process, “I am not a victim, I am an ‘Ambassador’ . I have to fight for others who need my support at this moment.”
There are people with two different attitudes, one who follow the grumbling path and the other who follow the grateful path, and I have learned to see the glass half full.