Incidents of acid attacks against people, particularly women, have been rising in recent years.
There have been waves of attacks in Afghanistan, Colombia, Germany and the U.K. But using acid as a weapon is perhaps nowhere more prevalent than in India.
According to the Acid Survivors Foundation, more than 3,700 people in India are estimated to have been attacked with acid since 1999, and the numbers could be higher.
One hospital in Tamil Nadu, a state in southern India, says it treats between 100 and 150 women with burn injuries every month. Most of the incidents stem from domestic violence.
For the survivor, the wounds are lifelong. Scars, disfigurement and a loss of self-esteem are just some of the obstacles victims are left to overcome.
Some survivors say that people sometimes look at their scars and make comparisons with Satan.
“If something bad occurs to them, they will blame us,” one survivor said. "They will tell others that they spoke to a devil that morning and it cursed them.”
Many burn victims have also expressed concerns over discrimination when searching for new employment opportunities. Some of the survivors say they are looked upon with disdain.
But now, there’s a two-fold program aimed at helping women recover from their physical injuries while enabling them to rebuild their sense of self-worth.
The International Crime Prevention and Victim Care Center (PCVC) based in Chennai, India provides the rehabilitation and counseling.
After the patients complete the program their next stop is the Writer’s Cafe, where they learn the intricacies of baking. And they absorb these skills with no one staring at or judging them.
“Some workplaces don't want to hire burn survivors because they think it’s too distracting for their other employees.” said Prasanna Gettu, director of PCVC.
Once they complete their training, each graduate spends three months working as an apprentice at various local bakeries before returning to the Writer’s Cafe for a paid job.
The goal at each stop along the way is to rebuild confidence and self-esteem in these survivors.
Currently, eight women from the PCVC burn ward are working at the cafe.
“Once I’m at [the] Writer’s Cafe I don’t feel like I need to hide my neck with the scarf,” one of the bakers said. "I can be free here.”
“I’m just another normal human being,” another survivor-turned-baker said.