It’s been more than 22 years since Anmol Rodriguez’s father threw acid on her and her mother. While her mother succumbed to the injuries, Anmol was left behind to face the cruel world. The acid melted the skin on her cheeks, forehead and blinded her in one eye. For years she faced the trauma all alone.

But on one fine morning, her lips glistened with pink lipstick. She gathered her wavy blue-highlighted hair onto one side so the details of her face were more visible. And she smiled her heart out. That day, Anmol spearheaded the way to lead a happy and positive life with dignity and has become an inspiration for many. She has become more confident now and is motivating others to live a cheerful life. With Chhapaak in line, Anmol discussed her journey, her acceptance in the society and the film’s role in moulding society’s opinion in an exclusive interview with The Statesman.

Excerpts from the interview

Tell us about your journey so far?

I endured an acid attack by my own father at the tender age of 2 months. My father poured acid on me and my mother intending to end our lives. While my mother succumbed to her grave injuries, I was left behind to face the world alone. Life, in general, became hard for me, and I had to go through various surgeries to suppress the impact of acid on my body. I lost an eye and continue to live my life with a disfigured face. I was sent to an orphanage in Mumbai where I spent my childhood with the hope to craft a better future.

However, the impact of the trauma was much deeper, when I was not accepted by children of my age. Throughout my life, most of the people I met kept me at bay due to my appearance. With the zeal to turn my life around, I secured a job but, later I had to quit as I faced discrimination at work as well.

I was totally disheartened by that and I continued my education and eventually met a teacher who was not treating me differently. I was amazed to see my teacher – Kiran Gandhi’s love and affection towards me, and she helped me to change my perspective towards life. My teacher helped me to overcome my fear, pain and helped me reset my goals, achieve my dreams and to become a role model for others with positivity and dignity.

Now, I am working with the Likee app, which is a global short- video creating platform. As a part of their #Likeedreams initiative, I feel more empowered in reaching out to the youth of India via engaging videos. I am utilizing the app to showcase my acting skills, modelling skills and also create motivational as well as entertaining videos for my fans. I draw my inspiration from the love and affection that I receive on the platform, a global short -video creating platform. I believe that even if I can bring change to one person’s life via my videos, my efforts will be worth employing.

What were the challenges that you faced as an orphan?

My orphanage life was much easy and full of positivity as there was no discrimination over my appearance. But things became difficult for me when I stepped into my college life. I became the victim of discrimination and mockery due to my appearance. I was not entertained by my other colleagues and they simply kept me at bay which lead me into depression.

How did you overcome those obstacles?

It wasn’t that easy to overcome those obstacles. I think “One can get recovered from a body wound by applying ointments but it’s really hard to heal mental disturbance and internal wounds”. Fortunately, I overcome my condition through my strong will power and with the support of my tutor. I am thankful to my tutor for making me believe in myself and to tackle my problems.

How should one not talk to an acid attack survivor?

I believe everybody is a survivor. It’s not just about an acid attack survivor but everyone is dealing with certain issues or tragedies in their lives which are not visible. Everyone is a survivor in their own life; one should support such people irrespective of their wounds and treat them as normal human beings. Don’t give sympathy; give them the support that will boost their morale.

What does beauty mean to you? Is our face the only thing important for marriage?

To be honest I had a crush on many boys during my teenage and still, I get a crush on them. I proposed to a boy I used to admire but his reaction towards me was arrogant just because of my appearance and scars. For me beauty is all about acceptance, one should not measure oneself or others on the basis of their physical note, one should accept others and love the way they are in reality. This has been my life’s mantra.

I haven’t decided to get married yet and it is my personal choice. I have witnessed many of my friends’ marriages get ruined due to rudimentary evils like dowry, their appearance or dark complexion. Although few people are trying to bring change, people have a particular mindset that is deeply engrained. But, yeah I have seen one’s face or physical appearance is the only thing which matters a lot to a boy or any girl who they are dating.

How successful have you been as the founder of the Acid Attack Survivor Sahas Foundation? Describe your experience working in the same.

I started the Sahas Foundation for a noble cause but things were going in the wrong direction. Later, it started hampering my ethics and morals too, so I quit. But, at an individual level, I still work for the Sahas Foundation and still help acid attack survivors in any way possible. Through my personal network, I have been trying to help them to get employment, provide medical assistance and skill development.

I think I won’t stop myself here on and will keep helping them because I had suffered a lot and I understand the challenges they face in the real world. More often I help them at a personal level and give them life lessons because I understand their point of view. Since I have faced the same problem; I have been training them to be mentally prepared and teaching them the importance of self-acceptance in life.

So, to conclude my experience with Sahas Foundation, it is all about spreading my life’s lessons to these people to give them a brink of hope to lead their lives with dignity.

Setting an example for society, how does it feel to be a role model for many?

I feel grateful when people see me as a role model. It is a great responsibility. But, as far as my case is concerned, I urge people not to take me as an inspiration just because I am an acid attack survivor or because of my harsh past. Rather, I ask them to draw inspiration from my journey to conquer such obstacles and to take a stand for yourself to become an actor, model, and social media influencer.

I think Likee has given me a voice to be open up about myself and to spread the good message to society through my videos. I am thankful to people who have continuously supported me throughout my passage to becoming a role model for them.

Share some of the greatest lessons from your life?

There are many but, I can only mention a few of them. I would request everyone to love and embrace yourself in every condition. Don’t let others delude you and judge you. Even if they do, just be yourself, ignore them and follow your heart. These are the few little things that will help you to go beyond your limits and will help you in life’s voyage. And, if you continue to apply these small things, one day you will definitely set an example for others.

What do you think about Chhapaak? Will it make any difference in society?

Yes, of course, the film will bring some change in society. Cinema is a reflection of our society, not just where we are today, but where our society has been. I think films like Chhapaak will help people to understand the gravity of these issues and bring awareness in the society. It will surely draw people to a level where they will understand the pain of acid attack survivors and outcast these cruel facets of society.

What are your upcoming projects?

There are many projects which are in the pipeline. As of now, I have no plans in revealing any of them as revealing it will kill the whole crux of it. I just want my fans and followers to keep patient and stay tuned with me for the updates.