By Malayanil @themalayanil

A GROUP of acid attack survivors are baring their scarred faces to empower other abused women

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Videographer / Director: Virendra Khanna
Producer: Nick Johnson, Malayanil, Neha Routela
Editor: Kyle Waters

Acid attack victim Ritu Saini carries a customer's order

Sheroes' Hangout is ran by Laxmi, Rupa, Chanchal, Ritu and Sonam, who do everything from cooking and cleaning to accounting and designing dresses.

The café in Agra, India, was opened by an NGO aiming to encourage society to accept acid survivors - who are often shunned by their community.

Ritu quit her studies after she was attacked

Rupa, now 22, was attacked when she was just 15-years-old whilst sleeping at home.

The acid melted her skin, burned her eyebrows and disfigured her upper lip, leaving her in a coma for six weeks.

Ritu draws a mehandi design on a tourist's hand

When she finally regained consciousness, Rupa could only recognise people by their voices.

But now, after finding Sheroes' Hangout, Rupa has regained her confidence and even designs dresses, which are sold in a small boutique inside the café.

Ritu (left) pictured before the attack
Dolly Kumari was attacked by a lovesick boy when she was 14

Rupa said: “I have made friends here, which I didn’t have earlier. I get great support here.”

Ritu has also spoken of how her life has changed since finding the support of the café.

Ritu, Neetu, Dolly, Rupa and Gita pose outside the Sheroes' Hangout

 She said: “My family supported me but entire life gets disturbed after the attack.

“I had to leave my studies after the attack. I was a state level Volley ball player. I quit that too.”

Ritu stands in front of some clothes designed by Rupa

“Before I had joined the campaign I used to cover my face but now I don’t hide it from anyone.”

Inspired by a beauty parlour in Pakistan run by acid attack survivors, the cafe has become the symbol of bravery and female empowerment.

Gita and Ritu busy at work in the kitchen of the Sheroes' Hangout

The women also reach out to other acid attack victims in the community.

Fourteen-year-old Dolly was attacked with acid by a lovesick local boy.

Gita Mahor poses for a photograph
Ritu before she was attacked

Now the teenager does her schoolwork at the café with the help of a tutor and dreams of studying medicine in the future.

Dolly said: “Everyone in the café wants me to fulfill my dream of becoming a doctor.

“Customers come in and tell us that you were beautiful before, you are beautiful now as well. Keep working."

Ritu doing a mehandi design on a tourist at the cafe

Sheroes was founded in 2013 as an initiative by the Stop Acid Attacks campaign and Chaanv foundation – a charity providing rehabilitation to acid attack survivors.

Social Worker Alok Dixit, who founded the Stop Acid Attacks campaign, said: “After the victims are treated, their biggest challenge is the society which does not aid their rehabilitation.

Customers relaxing in the Sheroes' Hangout

“When we tried to understand the cases in detail, we understood that it was the society’s weakness, which we had not paid attention to.

“After joining the café their thoughts have changed, there is positivity in them now. They have realised that whatever they have been told up till now is wrong.”

The colourfully designed Sheroes' Hangout from outside

Similar cafes are now being planned in other cities of India. 

Rupa sid: “I wish that the Sheroes' Hangout café scales heights and is known not only in India but throughout the world.

“There should be no one in the world who does not know about this café.”