In the shadow of the Taj Mahal a group of strong women, all survivors, have come together to run a café. Sheroes’ Hangout is a café near the Taj Mahal, Agra, which is run by five women, Ritu Saini, Chanchal Kumari, Neetu Mahor, Gita Mahor and Rupa, who have all survived acid attacks. In India, acid attacks, possibly 1000 or more each year, are a form of gender-based violence aimed at silencing and controlling women. Their use as a weapon against women who refuse sexual or other advances is on the rise in India. In South Asia, disputes over land, inheritances, dowries, and declined marriage proposals often arouse jealousy, which can lead to acid violence. Acid attacks are intensely inhuman crimes because the perpetrators plan to disfigure the victims rather than kill them. These attacks make them disfigured, often blinded, and severely traumatized. The lives of many women, deprived of free choice and independence in this way, have been destroyed.
Sheroes’ Hangout project is a self-sustainable entrepreneurial model café that can be operated by acid attack survivors for their self-growth and empowerment. Such hangout places empower a survivor of acid attack to break through social dogmas and taboos relating to these cases in our society.
Sheroes’ Hangout only employs acid attack survivors. It was opened by the StopAcidAttacks team with a mission to provide a safe space for survivors and the community to come and discuss feminism and equal rights. Visitors to Sheroes’ Hangout always leave with a sense of fulfillment- not just because of the great coffee and delicious snacks the café serves.
Opened in December 2014 in Agra, Sheroes’ Hangout started as a crowdfunding project by a group of acid attack survivors at Stop Acid Attacks, committed to ending acts of violence against humanity. Instead of succumbing to victimhood and staying in hiding, these women have decided to lead a normal respectable life and go to work. Sheroes’ Hangout is home to five acid attack survivors from the Stop Acid Attack (SAA) campaign, who manage accounts, take orders, clean and take over the entire running of the business. Along with the boutique, the café also has a reading section, and has become extremely popular with tourists and locals alike. Campaigners and survivors are working together to make the café a place where people can meet, have snacks and beverages, read books, buy souvenirs and learn to share their space with acid attack survivors.