By Shambhavi Singh: Kaajal Prajapati, a resident of Gujarat’s Mehsana district, had aspired to join the police force since she was a toddler. According to her, wearing a khaki uniform and striving to protect people is the finest vocation.
Her parents, a rickshaw driver and a housewife, always encouraged her to work hard in order to pass the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) exams. For a 16-year-old Kaajal in 2014, the road seemed difficult but not impossible with self-coaching.
However, two years later, she was the victim of a brutal acid attack right outside her college, and her life had changed for ever. She was unable to see for the next five years, and her face was severely disfigured.
‘I blamed myself for being a girl,’ she says.
It was the first of February in 2016 when Kaajal’s stalker came with his ultimatum. After being refused again, he threw acid on Kaajal’s face.
“Having dealt with him before, I was mentally prepared to deal with him again this time.” I had no idea he was carrying an acid bottle. “He threw it on me as soon as I stepped out of my college grounds, leaving me in excruciating pain,” says Kaajal.
She collapsed to the ground, and as her skin began to melt, her friends poured water and milk on her in an attempt to alleviate her pain, but they only exacerbated it. She was taken to the nearest hospital half an hour later, but due to the severity of her burns, she was transferred to Ahmedabad’s Civil Hospital.
“The doctors declared me blind and said I will need multiple surgeries to treat my burns and for my skin to heal. It was earth-shattering as I had just begun my first year of commerce. My whole life came to a standstill. My education suffered, my brother had to leave his studies to take up a job and finance my surgeries and my father had to do extra shifts. With lakhs of rupees required and results that did not guarantee outcomes, everything seemed dark,” says the 23-year-old.
Kaajal lived in the hospital for nearly four months and underwent more than 20 surgeries. Her family has spent nearly Rs 20,00,000 so far on medical expenses. Of this, she received Rs 3,00,000 from the government and some amount via donations from strangers.
If Kaajal was able to keep her hope alive during her painful and exhausting recovery, it was only because of her parents’ unwavering support.
“It broke my heart when people said, ‘It would have been better if the attacker had just thrown acid on the hands or legs instead of the face.’ They never called his actions into question. Some relatives stopped visiting us, and people stared everywhere I went. I chastised myself for being born as a female. But my lion-hearted parents insisted that the incident would not deter me from pursuing my UPSC dreams and living a dignified life. “They taught me that I don’t have to be embarrassed; the attacker does,” she added.
This was one of the main reasons Kaajal was not afraid to apply for jobs. But, many companies rejected her due to her appearance.
Kaajal, who is never the one to give up, recently re-enrolled in college and is currently finishing her first year while preparing for the UPSC exams.
“Because of my condition, I can only study for 1-2 hours per day, but it is better than doing nothing. I want to join the police force and work hard to keep our society safe, particularly for women, by enforcing harsher penalties for criminals. I’m hoping to have another surgery for my second eye soon, which will determine whether I ever get my full vision back,” says the determined Kaajal.