Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Meeting Tuba: Radha Bedi

Posted by Stop Acid Attacks On Tuesday, June 18, 2013 9 comments

15 year old Tuba, is from Patna, Bihar - Eastern state of India. In September 2012, she suffered from an horrific acid attack.

I have never met someone who has had acid thrown on them and meeting her touched my heart in a profound way.
I was filming in India for a BBC documentary at the time and  I remember my producer prepped me on the way in the car. In honesty, I
didn't think too much of it. But what I was concerned about was, that I hope I don't upset her in any way with my reaction when I first see her. I was very conscious of this. I promised myself I wouldn't cry in front of Tuba and her family were staying with relatives in house in a poor area, in the outskirts of Delhi. I remember waiting outside a noisy neighborhood with my production team. I soon became the center of attention, with kids swarming  towards us and I could feel the anticipation growing. Lots of kids had gathered in a crowd, boys and girls, staring, wondering, smiling . Their small faces looked so I looked up at the house where Tuba was staying. It was very narrow and with a small narrow door leading up the first few steps. There were no windows. Just small square concrete holes with thin cloth wafting in a slight breeze trying to stop the sun's rays from getting in.
Tuba's father Arif met me by the front. We exchanged a greeting Salaam and I followed him upstairs. The narrow staircase was steep, enough room for one person at a time and little headroom. We stopped on the first level and I removed my sandals and walked in. I looked down onto a woven mat and my eyes met Tuba for the very first time.  It's very difficult to put into words, how I felt when I first saw her. Sometimes words are not strong enough.  My body tingled.

I sat down on a mat floor beside her father, Tuba was sat in the middle, her mother on the other, rubbing coconut oil over her burns. I remember taking a few deep breaths before talking, trying to get over the initial shock and stay collected. The first thing that struck me was her face and in particular her loud gasps for breath. The acid has so severely burnt her face that Tuba cannot not move her lips or open her mouth. She has only one eye. The other, is an empty eye socket. She has no eyebrows or eyelashes and the acid had literally destroyed her face. Tuba wore a traditional Indian salwar kameez and a contrasting dupatta (shawl) across her neck. Her long black hair was tied back in
a neat plait. She looked so fragile and thin. Tuba struggles to eat and can only take liquids, which, you can imagine, has caused severe weight loss and malnutrition. Tuba has vents, one in each nostril to help keep her airways open, allowing her to breath, albeit difficulty. She has a net mask to protect her face from the direct sunlight. What does acid look like on a human body? To me, it looked like a deadly growth all over her body, pulling away on top layer of her skin. You could see her tiny
purple blood veins under the surface of the hardened acid on her skin.

At first, I was afraid to touch her, but wanted to know what it felt like on skin. I reached out to hold her delicate hands and asked if I could touch a patch on the topside of her right hand. As gentle as I could, the burn had formed a large lump and felt solid to touch. I didn't realise how painful it was for Tuba, she could feel every sensation and it was Unable to talk at length Tuba and her parents together, told me what had happened to their daughter.

Her story goes like this. She was on her way to daily tuition class, a routine walk she made every day. On her way, Tuba was met with four boys and stopped in her tracks by one she recognized from her class. Insisting Tuba should talk to him, she walked on and rejected his advances. Her rejection damaged his ego. With a two liter Cocoa Cola bottle filled with acid, the boy then splashed the bottle in her face. Tuba told me, at first she thought it was boiling water because of the burning sensation. She never thought it could possibly be acid. When she bent over to cover her face, screaming,
the boy then poured the remaining acid in  the bottle over Tuba's back, shoulders, arms and legs. It was only when her clothes had melted away, passers-by knew it was acid and rushed to help her.

When I saw Tuba's pictures pre the attack, that's when it hit me and I broke my promise. I remember turning away so Tuba couldn't see me, and I cried helplessly. I have never felt so helpless in all my life. I was filled with guilt, helplessness, and  anger all at the same time for what Tuba was a beautiful girl. With long black wavy hair, a coy innocent smile and dark brown marble eyes, radiant, milky white skin made her gorgeous young girl. What do you say, what can you say? I felt completely helpless. Our eyes met and I saw a tear drop from Tuba and I knew I had to be strong for her. Why should I be crying? I wanted to change the mood and  learn more about Tuba.

She told me her dream is to become a doctor. Tuba has been out of school for nearly a year and she told me she cannot wait to return back to school to complete her studies. Her parents tell me she's a strong academic. Tuba's favorite subject is math's and she's a very talented
Henna artist. I was lucky to have Henna painted on my hand by Tuba. With a witty streak in her, Tuba joked with me and said she'd paint Henna on my hands when I get married! Growing up, Tuba's parents told me how she was mischievous yet the life and soul of her family. She's the eldest of her siblings and has a younger brother and sister. Tuba's  mother told me that it took months before Tuba's younger sister would look at her older sister. She was scared of what Tuba looked like. 

After the attack had happened Tuba refused to look at herself in the mirror. About a month and a half later, Tuba first saw her face as a reflection in a stainless steel glass filled with water.It was time for Tuba to have some oil rubbed over her burns. I followed Tuba and her mother into the small dark bedroom. I wanted to help and Tuba's mother gave me the coconut oil. Coconut has a cooling quality and helps to reduce the burning sensation in the extreme Indian heat. Tuba's mother lifted up the back of her kameez and I saw the horrifying extent of how much the acid had destroyed her back. Her
back was covered in deep lumps and gaping hollow grooves of skin mangled up into hard bits. We gently massaged the oil on to her skin.

Tuba told me she struggles to sleep at night. She said it's too painful on We sat on the bed together and shared a few girly moments off camera and I remember showing her pictures of my dog on my phone, Tuba was fascinated.  She had never seen snow before. Tuba tried to smile and I could see she couldn't. We took some pictures together and she gave me her email address. I knew this would be a moment in my life I

It was time to say goodbye but I didn't want to leave. I felt like I wanted to give her everything that I had. How could I possibly make a difference. My stomach was churning and lumps formed in my throat. I gave her the warmest hug I could. I held her delicate hands and with tears trickling down my cheeks I told her to stay strong. I said goodbye and turned to put my sandals back on. I couldn't look back, it was too
Her attackers are in jail and the case is ongoing. They may have taken her face, but Tuba still has her beautiful personality, her warm heart and intelligent mind. This is the price Tuba and many girls have had to pay for simply saying NO.
Tuba is the bravest girl I have ever met!!

(Radha Bedi is television presenter based in London. She met Tuba while making a documentary for BBC3 in March 2013)


  1. thank you for sharing this story, these attacks are so brutal and horrific and must stop! Why is there not more serious punishment for the perpetrators??

    1. The Indian government, in the wake of the Delhi Bus Rape have only recently acknowledged Acid Attacks as a separate crime. Before, March 2013 - Acid Attacks wasn't even considered a crime. I guess this is a factor as to why there is not a more serious punishment for the perpetrators.

  2. Are you in contact with her at all? Or is there any way we can donate money?

  3. We are in touch with Tuba and many other such survivors who are struggling to live. You may contribute through our indiegogo crowd funding project here: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/acid-fighter-preeti-rathi-help-fund/x/3217351#_=_.
    Also, we will soon have another crowd funding campaign on the same portal for Tuba's treatment.

  4. Help Tuba live a better life: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/a-better-life-for-tuba-an-acid-attack-fighter/x/3217351

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  6. I think that for the very first time of my life I became aware of something. It's difficult to explain… and even more when you're not native in English... so let me explain you my feelings.

    When I saw Tuba (her name means "tree in the heaven", same name as my wife), I first felt helpless.
    I haven't cry for a very long time, but yesterday I couldn't help crying for her fate. I cried because this girl had HOPE! Even though they take her face, she continues having dreams, she wants to go back to school, she believes the next operation will be the last one, she wants to be a doctor. Even though she cannot smile anymore, she cannot eat properly, she cannot sleep well, she is in pain, she cannot breath properly, she can barely see... She is so strong! And this is the reason why I cried. But this is also the reason why, and for the very first time of my life, I don't want to forget. I really want to help this girl because I WANT HER TO HAVE A LIFE! A life she fully deserve!

    According to what I have read online (her Facebook page, StopAcidAttacks website, …), she will need approximately £30K (€35k) for the operations, then we have to add all the medicines and transportations to and from the hospital. She needs to travel in expensive train compartment with air-conditioning, because her skin wouldn’t support the heat of compartment without air-conditioning.

    I also would like her to have private tuition at home. Imagine, according to doctors, when money is raised, it will take 4-5 years before she finishes with all the operations. Tuba wants to be a doctor. I believe we should do our best to make sure she gets private tuitions at home. She likes science and mathematics. I am not sure whether she speaks English or not, but it would be great if she could learn as well.
    I think it would be a smart idea to keep her mind busy with studying. Can you imagine this child staying at home for 4 years, with a lot of physical pains, without studying, without playing with friends and without reading anything because she can only see partially? I don’t want to imagine such a thing!

    If like me, you would like to help her, please join her Facebook page and we can talk about it there (https://www.facebook.com/tubatabassumacidattackvictim).
    This is the very first time I’m doing this, so I would appreciate your help, your pieces of advice, …
    The needed amount sounds huge for people like me, but I am pretty sure that if every single person who has been moved by Tuba’s story contributes a little bit and talk about it to someone else, then we will be able to achieve our goal very fast.

    Here is a link to make a DONATION to Tuba: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/a-better-life-for-tuba-an-acid-attack-fighter

  7. Thanks for writing such a good article,
    I stumbled onto your blog and read a few post.
    I like your style of writing.indian names



    About Us

    SAA is a campaign against acid violence. We work as a bridge between survivors and the society, as most of the victims of this brutal crime, which is much more grave in its impact than a rape, have isolated themselves after losing their face. Due to ignorance of the government and civil society, most survivors find no hope and stay like an outcast, in solitude. SAA aims to research and track acid attack cases and compile a data to get the actual situation of survivors.

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    We work with partners and stakeholders towards elimination of acid and other forms of burn violence and protection of survivors' rights. The process of justice to an acid attack victim remains incomplete until she gets immediate medical, legal and economic help, along with the critical social acceptance. Our vision is to free India from this crime, which reflects the flaws of our patriarchal society and abusive attitudes. We want survivors to have access to fast justice and fight back the irreparable impact of this crime.

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