By Taniya Dutta
An Indian woman who suffered horrific burns to her face and lost vision in both the eyes in an acid attack by scorned admirer has found the love of her life in the hospital bed.
Pramodini Roul, was just 15 years old when a bike-borne paramilitary soldier threw acid on her face, melting it away completely and blinding both her eyes because she had rejected his marriage proposal.
The 25-year-old survivor, who is lovingly called Rani or queen by her family, was a 10th-grade student then and was returning from taking an exam with her cousin when the 28-year-old man doused her with the corrosive element.
Rani spent four months in ICU immediately after the incident and later was bedridden for four years at her house in Odisha in eastern India while her widowed mother took care of her alone, bandaging her pus-filled wounds.
After suffering pain for almost a decade, undergoing five reconstructive surgeries including one to correct vision in her left eye by some degree, and reeling under depression throughout these years, Rani says she has finally found a reason to live happily-her boyfriend Saroj.
The two met while Rani was in the hospital and have been living together for a year in New Delhi, contemplating on getting married in two years.
Rani says: “Saroj really treats me like a Rani.
“He loves me like the way I am. He always encourages me to live life happily.
“He has become a part of me. I would not have been able to see the world today if I did not have him in my life.
“I feel very lucky to have him. He is very understanding and is always there for me. It always feels good to be loved and be assured of having a partner who loves and recognizes the goodness in you.”
Rani and Saroj met in March 2014 at a private hospital where she was admitted for the treatment for the pus-filled infection that had ravaged her legs.
The skin from her legs was used for grafting but untimely discharge from the hospital caused infection in her half treated wounds that began secreting puss.
Doctors had told her mother that Rani would need at least four years before she can walk again.
I believe he saw my mother and observed her and then slowly started extending helping hands. She would always come alone for my physiotherapy.
“One day he heard my mother ask about my improvement and how long would it take for me to recover as my lower body had by then deteriorated. I was not even moving without help, let alone stand on my feet.
“The reply wasn’t very positive as the doctors said that it would take at least four years for me to be able to walk. My mother naturally broke down when she heard that. That is when Saroj consoled her and assured her that he would do everything possible to get me walking.”
Saroj started visiting Rani every day to boost her morale. He eventually quit his job and spent eight hours a day to look after Rani.
She said: “He was extremely caring and looked after my needs. He would talk to me for hours and motivate me. It was a tough time for me when doctors had told me I would not be able to walk for four years.
“I had already lost my eyesight and the thought of being bedridden was an added woe. But Saroj did not lose hope. He would encourage me every day, motivating me to be positive and have hopes.
“He even quit his job to meet me every day. From 8 to 12 am in the morning and 4 to 8 pm in the evening, he was there with me. It had become a routine.
“Just as medication was required for the physical recovery I needed dire support and encouragement at the mental level.
“Gradually, the wounds started healing and with treatment and exercise and with his help and support I regained my confidence and now I am standing back on my feet.”
Rani had not seen Saroj until this September when she had undergone the first surgery in the left eye. Yet she says she had fallen for his charms.
As their friendship got deeper and stronger, the two expressed their feelings for each other but Rani was initially sceptical of being in a relationship as she felt she was not ready for it.
“It was 14th January 2016, we were in Agra where he wept and expressed his feelings for me.
“I too had fallen for him loved him and I did tell him that. But I also knew that loving is different from entering into a relationship.
“I was not fit enough to look after myself, how could I keep others happy. So I didn’t really agree then. But it was he who kept encouraging me, by telling me not to think too much.
“He assured me that there will come a day when I will not just be able to see the world and work but will also be able to make others happy. He always had my confidence,” she said.
While Rani and Saroj have been accepted by their families, the two are waiting to get further reconstructive surgeries before they take the plunge.
Rani’s neck has started bending as the skin in her backbone had completely melted. She still further surges for her eyes as she is only able to see a little and needs plastic surgeries on her head as a major portion of skin is missing.
Recalling the day she had seen herself the first time after the attack, Rani said: “I felt scared of myself.
“I had not seen myself from the day of the attack to the day I went blind.
“I only saw myself in the mirror after my eye surgery in September this year.
“I did have some idea of what the tragedy had done to me but when I saw myself I felt extremely hurt. I was so scared of myself that I cried the whole night.
“I am hoping to get further surgeries as soon as possible. Doctors say I need at least four more surgeries.”
The surgeries are extremely expensive. Rani’s mother has exhausted all her savings in the previous surgeries but has no resources to foot in the further operations.
Rani works with Chhanv Foundation, a support care for acid attack survivors that helps in arranging funds for their surgeries and rehabilitation.
“I am happy that I am able to restart my life again but it would be wonderful if I can get all the reconstructive surgeries soon.
“My mother could not arrange money for my treatment and we had to stop it midway. The delay has caused several complications and need to be addressed soon.
“I also want to do something in life, look after my sisters and then settle down with Saroj.”
As in most of the acid attack cases in India, the perpetrator Santosh Kumar Bedant in Rani’s case was also let off because the police was bribed. He even offered to marry Rani after the attack and called her until 2013.
He is a married man with a son and there is no case against him that Rani can pursue.
She said: “I am still waiting for the day when the attacker would be arrested and put behind the bars.
“The police had come to record my statement after the attack and I had to lodge the FIR’s for more than once. But the police did not seem to take the case seriously. They did not even arrest the attacker despite me detailing his identity.
“In fact to our surprise, they lied and denied the very existence of any such person with that name.
“I also filed a case against the man and had also received the summons from the court asking for the submission of evidence. But because I was bedridden and my mother was left alone due to the withdrawal of support from my family, nothing much could be done. My younger cousin was an eyewitness, but there was no one to take him to the court.
“Because of all this, the case was dismissed in the year 2012.”