Standing in the shadow of the Taj Mahal, in the city of Agra, rests an unassuming cafe with a colorful mural and an admirable mission to empower women.
Tucked away on a dusty street amidst a cacophony of rickshaws and pedestrians stands Sheroes’ Hangout. This pay-what-you-choose cafe employs women who have survived harrowing acid attacks, often at the hands of their own family members or romantic partners. According to USA Today, acid attacks have been on the rise in India, averaging an estimated 250 to 300 victims per year. Often the acid, which is easily procured and extremely corrosive, leaves its victims deformed, blind, and forever scarred.
Acid attacks in India tend to be the result of a personal conflict (such as jealousy, lust or rejection). In the case of one Sheroes’ Hangout employee, she underwent 10 reconstructive surgeries after having acid tossed in her face for denying her cousin’s romantic advancements. Victims of such horrific acts can struggle to find their place in society and secure employment. Sheroes’ Hangout aims to empower acid attack survivors while spreading awareness of violence against women in India. “People think that acid attack victims are from the outer world. Sheroes’ is an effort to make them believe that they are from this world only,” Ashish Shukla, a lead campaigner for Stop Acid Attacks, told Al Jazeera. “Since we as a society are responsible for their scars, it is our responsibility to fix it and bring them into the mainstream of society.”
Sheroes’ Hangout represents the growing revolution of women who are standing up against the widespread femicide and female-based violence in India. Groups, such as the vigilante pink-clad ‘Gulabi Gang’ now travel from town-to-town educating men and taking on the patriarchy. With their hot pink saris, the Gulabi Gang carry forth the message of anti-violence that places like Sheroes’ Hangout are eager to spread.
Sheroes’ Hangout serves fresh Indian fare such as Vegetarian Biryani, Paneer Butter Masala, and Dal Fry. While the food is regaled as being fresh and authentic, it is the mission behind Sheroes’ Hangout that is the main draw. The cafe features women-made art and aims to educate each person who walks in on the reality of acid attacks in the country. Each woman employed at Sheroes’ Hangout is a brave survivor, courageously finding new beginnings after their attacks, reminding each of us that true beauty is found within.
Know Before You Go
Sheroes' Hangout is located behind Go Stops Hostelin, Taj Nagari Phase 1, Agra. Just above the Meena Bazar shop. For those interested in supporting the work of Sheroes' Hangout, online donations are accepted.