My million will go on rebuilding my face and my family’s life’: Acid attack victim who won India’s Who Wants To Be A Millionaire vows to carry on her fight for justice
An acid attack victim who won the jackpot on India’s biggest quiz show is refusing to give up on justice – despite her attackers remaining free.
Sonali Mukherjee was 17 years old when a spurned suitor and his friends broke into her home and doused her body in Tezaab, a chemical normally used to clean rusted tools, while she slept.
She was left partially blind and deaf with 70 per cent burns on her body and has received no state funding for her treatment.
Last year, she wrote to the Indian government threatening to kill herself if she did not receive state aid.
Her three attackers served only four months of their nine-year sentences before they were freed on appeal.
Now 28, Miss Mukherjee, says only justice will give her closure and, spurred on by her new-found fame and fortune, is determined to spearhead a major change in women’s rights in India.
She said: ‘I used to be a beautiful, confident woman. But my beauty became my curse.
‘For three years after the attack, I was in shock and unable to do anything. I even applied for euthanasia but when that was refused I decided to fight back.
‘People like these three men, who can spoil someone’s life like this in a fraction of a second should be brought to justice.
‘These incidents [of acid attacks] will stop only when people involved are given hard punishments according to the crime they have committed.
‘I have seen them once in the court but my father who follows my case is taunted by them saying to us, “Nothing will come out of this court case. Make peace with us.”
‘But I will never give up until they are brought to justice.
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‘Female society can only be empowered once a woman herself raises her voice towards such ill doings in society. That is what I want to do.’
India is said to be the fourth most dangerous country for females to live, according to a Thomas Reuters Foundation study.
Acid sales are not regulated, with the corrosive product widely available for purchase for less than Rs. 20 (24p).
Following the attack, Miss Mukherjee struggled to cope, her mother fell into depression and the family left their hometown of Dhanbad for the capital New Delhi.
There she underwent surgery 22 times, with the series of operations and consultations she has already endured costing hundreds of thousands of rupees.
Her family sold ancestral land and her mother’s jewellery to pay for the treatment and had run out of money for further procedures before her win.
She says that it will cost an estimated 1.5million rupees for her to look ‘even remotely human’ and to have her eyesight restored.
Earlier this year some Rs 30 lakh was raised by Mumbai-based company Beti as part of Project Hope and celebrities such as Bollywood actress Juhi Chawla and producer Ramesh Tauran also donated funds to the appeal.
THE WIN THAT SPURRED HER ON
Miss Mukherjee won a million rupees – almost £30,000 – on Kaun Banega Crorepati, the Indian edition of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?
The show shot to worldwide fame when it was featured at the centre of Danny Boyle’s Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire.
Her appearance, alongside Bollywood actress and former Miss Universe Lara Dutta, was on a special edition featuring contestants who overcame adversity.
The show’s host Amitabh Bachchan, known as Big B in India, said: ‘Denied justice, she pleaded publicly to end her life. Denied that too because euthanasia is illegal in the country, she decided not to remain silent and suffer.
‘Her story is one of immense courage.
‘The nation salutes her as do all of us, but simultaneously hangs its head in shame for this dastardly act.’
Her jackpot win of Rs 25 laks – equivalent to almost £30,000 – came as part of a one-off edition of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? called Doosra Mauka, or Second Chance, which featured contestants who have shown courage in the face of adversity.
Now, Miss Mukherjee is appealing for ‘stringent punishment’ for her attackers.
She said: ‘Such incidents should stop and they will stop only when people involved in such cases are given hard punishments.
‘They need to be punished according to the crime that they’ve done.
‘People like these who can spoil anyone’s life like this in a fraction of a second should be brought to justice. They too should get the same treatment.
‘I am lucky that I survived and wish the same does not happen to any other girl.
‘According to the doctors my condition was so dire I shouldn’t have survived.
‘But now it is time to change the 50-year-old law so that such cases do not ever occur in the future.’
With her winnings Sonali hopes to return her family’s life back to normal.
She said: ‘Firstly I will get my treatment done, but my family is in a very dire state.
‘They have sold off everything for my treatment and neither do we have a job to earn anything.
‘My mother has been in a very bad mental state since my attack, my grandfather suffered a heart attack and we do not have a house of our own.
‘So my main motive with the money is to get my treatment done so that I can at least start a normal life, and take my family and myself out of this trauma. They have sacrificed and faced a lot for me.’