''If the government cannot protect the acid attack victims the least they can do is support their rehabilitation.'
A Ganesh Nadar/Rediff.com reports.
When the Sheroes Hangout was started by the Channv Foundation in Agra in 2015 to provide a livelihood for survivors of acid attacks, it became so popular that Akhilesh Yadav, the then chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, visited it, and urged them to open a café in the state capital Lucknow as well.
The state government not only allocated space in a government building but also provided financial support of Rs 410,000 every month to help pay salaries to the acid attack survivors and also help with the overheads and other incidentals. This grant was to be provided till the cafe became self-sustaining.
"The girls are not only entitled to a salary, they also get a percentage of the profits, they are partners in this venture," says Alok Dixit, left, who has been fighting for the cause of acid attack survivors and is the founder of the Channv Foundation.
Everything was going well and the Agra café, which was in a rented space, even turned a profit.
Trouble started after Akhilesh Yadav lost the assembly election in March 2017 and a new government took over, following which the grant to the Lucknow cafe stopped.
Soon the UP Mahila Kalyan Nigam, which owns the building housing the Lucknow café, served notice on the Chaanv Foundation asking it to shut down after the lease ran out and hand over the premises.
The Nigam even called for fresh tenders and selected another vendor to run the café
In lieu of the loss of employment to the acid attack survivors employed in the café, the Nigam offered them training in fresh skillsets.
However, Alok Dixit challenged this decision in court and obtained a stay order.
Caught on the back foot the Ajay Singh Bisht/Yogi Adityanath government in UP immediately issued another order stating that nobody needs to run a café on the premises and that the space would be used by other government departments.
"We have just become self-sustaining and this came as a big blow to us. But I am not going to take this lying down and have approached the court for justice for these girls. We will continue fighting in court till these girls are allowed to run the café," says Dixit.
Mahila Kalyan Nigar officials remained unavailable for comment despite numerous attempts to contact them.
"We are 12 girls who are all victims of acid attacks, and 23 other staff. We are now the pride of Lucknow. We have made our café a success and are running at a profit," Anshu Rajpur, who has been working in the café from day one.
"But this government, instead of supporting us, is throwing us out. Alokji is fighting our case in court. We will win and we will continue to work here. Nothing can stop us, the people are supporting us," Anshu adds.
"If the government cannot protect acid attack victims the least it can do is support their rehabilitation," says Dixit.
"The acid attack victims have been left in the lurch all because the café was started by Akhilesh and Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath doesn't want to continue with it because a political opponent started it," Dixit adds.
Following the outrage on social media, the Bisht government has done a quick turnaround and issued an order on Thursday, October 4, stating that the café can continue to run from the premises, since 'the government of Uttar Pradesh is with the acid attack victims'.
However, Alok Dixit has a different story to tell.
"They have told the girls that they can stay on, but Sheroes has to leave, and the café will be run by the UP Mahila Kalyan Nigam. They are obviously upset with me because I took them to court and also mobilised social media support."
"They don't realise that the girls are the Sheroes, they are partners in Sheroes, you cannot separate the two."