“I’d heard about such things, seen it in the news, but never thought something like it could happen to me. I remember waking up in so much pain that night — all over my face, my ears, my neck — but my first thought was still that maybe the electricity-meter had exploded or something. It was only when I heard my husband laughing over the sound of my screams that I remembered something he had once said to me. That he would make me so ugly one day I would curse him every time I saw a reflection of myself.

So when I then heard ‘jaa, jee le apni zindagi’ (go, live your life like this now) followed by the sound of him walking away, I realized with horror exactly what had happened. My husband had followed through on his threat. He had poured acid all over me.

-Zakira Sheikh

Zakira Sheikh, a remarkable survivor of an acid attack and a single mother to two young girls from Mumbai, recently participated in the International Kindness Festival 2021. In a heartfelt conversation with Mahima Poddar, the founder of The Kindness Foundation, Zakira shared her inspiring journey and how she finds happiness in every little aspect of life.

The three-day festival featured a wide range of talks and workshops by prominent personalities from around the world, including renowned actor and producer Abhishek Bachchan, former tennis player Mahesh Bhupathi, and Stephen McGowan, the longest-held Al-Qaeda captive.

Zakira’s life took a tragic turn when she was attacked by her husband in 2017. Reflecting on her childhood, she fondly remembered the strong bond she shared with her siblings, which made her reluctant to make new friends. She got married at the age of 17, but unfortunately, faced difficulties due to dowry demands. After ten years of struggle, Zakira decided to seek a divorce. However, her husband, unable to accept her decision, resorted to the horrific act of acid attack.

“My childhood was amazing. I was so close to my siblings that I did not want to go out and make other friends. I got married at 17 and the problems started with the dowry. After 10 years, I was tired of this and I wanted a divorce. We already had two kids. He could not digest the fact that I, being a woman, could ask him for a divorce,” said Zakira.

Despite facing immense hardship, Zakira emerged as a symbol of strength and resilience. She yearned for love and support during her recovery, but felt isolated and abandoned. However, she gradually embraced a positive outlook on life. Determined to overcome her circumstances, she exclaimed, “I needed love to recuperate from the incident. I needed friends but there was no one. I felt like everything had ended. My daughters could not recognize me. They were scared to even come near me. But things changed slowly. He wanted to end my life, but now I want to live a fulfilling life and show him that he did not win.”

Zakira faced social ostracization but refused to be defeated. She pursued training as a makeup artist, recognizing the value society often places on appearances. “I can’t change everyone’s perspective. To me, I am beautiful,” she proudly declared. Amidst the challenges, Zakira found solace in the support of a few genuine individuals, such as Anushree Kulkarni, who not only helped her with training but also became her first client when Zakira did her makeup for her wedding. She also mentioned Vijaylakshmi Harish, who has been a significant source of support in her journey.

The entire ordeal taught Zakira a valuable lesson—she discovered an indomitable spirit within herself, motivating her to strive for victory. “I have to stay strong for my daughters. You need to stay positive and aim to win,” she emphasized. Despite encountering discouragement from people around her, Zakira refused to succumb to despair. Instead, she ventured out to fight for her independence and build a life of her own. Today, it is her husband who is disturbed, while Zakira proudly shares that people in her neighborhood now affectionately call her a Tigress because of her unwavering resilience.

Zakira is also actively raising funds for her daughters’ education, displaying her unwavering determination to provide them with a bright future.

Zakira Sheikh’s story serves as an inspiration to us all, reminding us of the strength of the human spirit and the power of resilience in the face of adversity.

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