Deepika Padukone‘s arrival at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) to meet violence-stricken left-wing students is in the eye of a storm on social media. It is widely believed the visit was nothing more than an indirect promotional event for the actress’s upcoming film Chhapaak as she has been known to suddenly make a show of her alleged depression before the release of her film Piku in 2015.
#BoycottChhapaak remains among the top trends on Twitter and people are trolling Deepika as to why the name of the real-life villain Nadeem Khan (aka Guddu) who threw acid on Laxmi Agarwal was changed in biopic Chhapaak to a Hindu-sounding Rajesh Sharma. Chhapaak is supposed to be the story of Laxmi Agarwal, the acid attack survivor.
These days Deepika is busy promoting her film Chhapaak, which will be released two days later. Late Tuesday evening, she reached JNU among the agitating students. There she met students demonstrating against an attack on them on the JNU campus. Deepika stayed with the left union-affiliated students for about 10 minutes.
CPI leader and former president of JNU Students Union (from AISF) Kanhaiya Kumar was present there. He told a news agency he did not know Deepika was around and, therefore, could not meet her.
Deepika has come under attack on social media also for meeting communist students while ignoring members of the ABVP who were victims of violence too.
Of course, there is ample support for Deepika on social media; the left is now as strong as the right in that domain.
Those who are objecting to the alleged name change are not against the name change per se, as even Laxmi has turned Malti in the film. They question why Khan has been renamed after a Hindu in the biopic. A section of the media has reported, however, that the name of the antagonist in the film is Bashir Khan alias Babboo.
We have studied two ‘fact checks’ on the claims and counter-claims, one each in India Today and Hindustan Times. Both the reports quote random media houses and Twitter users but neither talks to the one person who could deal with the controversy authoritatively: Meghna Gulzar.
The word “Basheer” appears once in the India Today post while “Bashir” appears once in the Hindustan Times article. They are assertions by the respective media houses rather than authenticated claims.
Meanwhile, IMDB, the site with the most comprehensive information on films, does not mention any Bashir or Basheer at all. It says Deepika Padukone plays Malti, Vikrant Massey plays Amol, Ankit Bisht plays Rajesh and Devas Dixit plays Manish. Two other actors, Delzad Hiwale and Madhurjeet Sarghi, are mentioned without the names of the characters they portray.
Laxmi Agarwal whose story inspired Chhapaak
The day was 22 April 2005. Lakshmi was passing through Khan Market in Delhi when Nadeem Khan and two accomplices pushed her to the ground and threw acid on her face. At the time, Laxmi was just 15 years old. Nadeem had proposed her for marriage, which Laxmi had turned down.
Laxmi recalls that incident, saying, “The way a plastic melts, my skin was melting in the same way. I was bumping into the moving vehicles on the road. I was taken to a hospital, where I cried with my father. My father’s shirt burned when I hugged him. I did not even know what had happened to me. The doctors sewed my eyes while I was still in my senses. I was in the hospital for two months. When I came home and saw my face, I felt my life was over.”
Laxmi wrote on 22 April last year, “It has been 14 years since the attack on me. A lot has changed in these 14 years; a lot of things have gone well; a lot of things are bad, which scares me when I think about it. People feel that an acid attack is the biggest sorrow; that is what everyone sees. When there is an attack, not only the life of a whole family changes but suddenly a new twist comes because that person attacks once, the society attacks again and again. It does not allow you to live. As a result in some cases, the victim or a member of her family commits suicide.”
Laxmi wrote further in the post, “I know that every year this date will come in my life and today the day is as painful as that day. At the time, I had my father and brother, but they are not around. Every 22 April throws at me some new problems, which I am scared to think about. After all, I am a human being. I have problems too. I never want anyone to go through what has happened to me. When I was 15-year-old, I could not speak before my father or mother; I was afraid if I complained, I would be judged wrongly. The criminal took advantage of my silence.”
Laxmi said, “Today everyone will read this post and I want you guys to take a lesson from this post. Parents should be friendly with their children so that they can speak their mind because whenever there is a problem, the parents get upset. Children should be friends with their parents too. Speak your mind so that whatever problem there is, they can work together to fix it. Remember, the attack is not just on one person but on the whole family.”
Impact on society
Laxmi, besides fighting her case in the court, filed a PIL seeking a new law or amendment to the existing criminal laws like IPC, Indian Evidence Act and CrPC for dealing with the offence. She had pleaded for a total ban on the sale of acids, citing an increasing number of incidents of such attacks on women across the country.
During a hearing, the union government had assured the Supreme Court that it would work with the state governments to formulate a plan before the next hearing. However, it failed to do so, which angered the court. When the Centre failed to produce a plan, the Supreme Court warned it would intervene and pass orders if the government failed to frame a policy to curb the sale of acid in order to prevent chemical attacks. “Seriousness is not seen on the part of the government in handling the issue,” the bench headed by Justice RM Lodha had said.
In 2013, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Laxmi and Rupa’s plea, thereby creating a fresh set of restrictions on the sale of acid. Under the new regulations, acid could not be sold to any individual below the age of 18 years. One is also required to furnish a photo identity card before buying acid.
Laxmi says that not much has changed on the ground, despite all the regulations. “Acid is freely available in shops. Our own volunteers have gone and purchased acid easily. In fact, I have myself purchased acid,” she said. “We have launched a new initiative called ‘Shoot Acid’. By means of the Right to Information Act, we are trying to acquire data concerning the sale of acid in every district. We intend to present the information collected through this initiative before the Supreme Court to apprise them of the situation on the ground.”