Indian acid attack victim Sonali Mukherjee goes on TV game show

Woman who asked to die if she wasn't given help wins money on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 December, 2012, 4:56am

A few months ago, Sonali Mukherjee, horrifically disfigured in an acid attack when she was 17, wanted to end her suffering.

Over nine years, she went through 22 operations to repair the injuries inflicted by the three men who broke into her home at night and poured acid over her face as she slept.

The acid melted away her eyelids, nose, mouth and ears, leaving her blind and partially deaf. Her "offence" was to have spurned their advances. They spent just three years in jail.

Unable to continue what she called "half a life with half a face", she begged the government in July either to help her with money for more medical treatment or to let doctors kill her. Euthanasia is illegal in India.

Money cannot give Mukherjee back her face and her life.

But it can help, which is why she appeared on the Indian version of the quiz show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? at the weekend, hosted by Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan.

The producers invited Mukherjee, 26, on the show after an outpouring of support that followed media coverage of her plea for euthanasia. On the show, where an emotional Bachchan escorted her to her chair, Mukherjee answered questions confidently, her face wrapped in a red scarf and wearing sunglasses.

The audience, many in tears, gave her a standing ovation.

"My parents said I should appear with my face uncovered but I can't do that yet. For almost 10 years, I have only left the house to go to hospital. My home has been like a jail," she said.

Photos of Mukherjee receiving an award as a National Cadet Corps student show a smiling, pretty woman with long black hair. Her face is now so disfigured that smiling is impossible.

Having won 2.5 million rupees (HK$355,250) on the show, she will use the money for the 12 more operations she needs.

Her parents sold their land and the little gold jewellery they had and gave all their savings to finance her treatment, but it was not enough.

Mukherjee, who has moved temporarily from her home in Dhanbad in central India to the capital for treatment, also plans to speak up for other victims of acid attacks.

Last month, a 23-year-old woman called Vinodhini in Madras had acid thrown at her by a spurned suitor as she walked home from the bus stop.

She suffered 40 per cent burns and has lost the sight of both eyes.

Mukherjee said: "I want to lobby with the government to get an effective law to help women like Vinodhini.

"Only a harsh law will deter men from destroying a woman's life. My attackers were released after serving only three years of the nine-year sentence while my mental agony goes on and on."