Chris Gagné

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Sonali Mukherjee: A drought of action in a sea of reaction

Sonali Mukherjee is a blind, nearly deaf, and penniless 27-year-old woman. At the age of 17, she was assaulted by three intruders who broke into her Dhanbad, India home in April 2003 and poured acid on her after sexually harassing her for years. Since then, her family has spent their savings treating her injuries, her assailants have been released from jail, and now they have begun a campaign of death threats that have turned Sonali and her family into fugitives. Sonali lost her grandfather to shock shortly after the attack, and her mother has slipped into a depression. Today, she needs approximately $30,000 to pay for the balance of restorative surgeries.

Nine years later, Sonali has requested the Indian government to either intervene by controlling the assailants and providing funds medical treatment or grant her permission to die.

Here’s Sonali’s plea for help. I’ve hired translators to translate and transcribe it into English, which I’ve reproduced below.

My Name is Sonali Mukherjee. For the last few days you have been listening about myself & reading. The Halabol website has taken an initiative regarding the inexpressible incident happened with me; they want to give me justice & to help me. If you want to know about myself then go to the website “www.halabol.com” & sign the petition that Halabol has created for me. With all of your signatures I will get help & strength. I will go to the President  & Prime Minister with that petition and will appeal for the help. I need all of your help. If I get all of you with me then I want to go forward. All of your help will make the road of my upcoming life. If you want to help me financially then you can transfer the fund into my father’s bank account online. His name is Chandi das Mukherjee.

Account No# 0612000103217964, Punjab National Bank, Naruji Nagar Branch, Newdelhi. [CG: Please verify the accuracy of this information before choosing to send a donation.]

You can online transfers into this account & help me financially. With all of your small help I well be strong & will fight this battle. In addition to that if you sign the petition then I will get a partner & will be able to raise my voice strongly to the President  & Prime Minister. I need your assistance. Please help me, Assist me & sign the petition. Thank you so much.

Let’s be clear: Sonali is pleading for roughly $30,000 and protection from her assailants OR the right to die.

How has the world reacted?

As of 8/2/2012, there were about 130 Google News results for acid “Sonali Mukherjee”. There were 9 results for acid indiegogo OR kickstarter OR donate OR halabol OR 0612000103217964 OR petition OR wishberry “sonali mukherjee”a search intended to include articles that called for either donations or petition signatures. Her story was posted on Reddit, yet less than 5% of the top 200 comments appear to suggest intervening.

I was able to locate two online fundraising campaigns for Sonali: one on Wishberry, the other on Indiegogo. These two campaigns have raised a total of about US$6,500, roughly 25% of her stated need. She’s received other support as well, including direct donations to her father’s bank account and offers of medical treatment from local physicians and surgeons. The tide has begun to turn for Sonali, though a long road remains ahead.

In the US, citizens raised a whopping US$703,833 raised on Indiegogo for Karen H. Klein, a 68-year-old bus monitor who had been viciously and chronically harassed by middle school students in Greece, New York. Several individuals started a campaign on Indiegogo for Petra Anderson, who was shot and critically injured during the shooting at The Dark Knight Rises premiere in Aurora, CO on July 20th, 2012. As of this moment, 4,304 funders have contributed a total of US$255,628.

So what’s the point of this blog post?

I think we have an opportunity to change the world. History and popular culture is filled with stories of people who have gone from rags to riches, victim to victor, and oppressed to advocate. Wikipedia lists RockyCitizen KaneMy Fair LadyScarfaceThe Pursuit of HappynessCharlie Chaplin in The Gold RushGoodfellasThe Blind SideGuruSlumdog Millionaire, and Magic Beyond Words: The J.K. Rowling StoryBusiness Insider shares “15 Inspirational Rags-to-Riches Stories.” Keep in mind that these are primarily poverty to wealth stories; examples exist for many different types of underdogs who became champions in their own right.

Jonathan Haidt’s book “The Happiness Hypothesis,” a survey of “10 great ideas” about the origins and mechanisms of happiness, devotes a chapter to “the uses of adversity.” Although my own story is far too involved to share online, I too know the uses of adversity.

Adversity can give us strength, courage, willpower, and humility. Having known bitterness, we can appreciate the sweetness of life. For those of us who survive with our sense of compassion intact, we are often driven to be agents of change. Given the opportunity, we can become activists, advocates, and role models.

Rafe Furst talks about investing in “super stars” and—although he isn’t the first to think of it—is beginning to popularize the notion of personal investment contracts. Rafe invests $300,000 in his carefully selected super-stars in exchange for 3% of their gross income for the rest of their life.

Let’s take this a step further. Rafe invests in people that he likes with a hope of earning a financial return, which is a very interesting idea. I think that we as human beings should invest in people that we come to love out of compassion with the hope that perhaps they will use it to improve our lot as a species.

I don’t know what Sonali Mukherjee, Karen H. Klien, or Petra Anderson will make of their lives. (I still think we can do more for Sonali, by the way.) What I do know is that thousands of people have effectively said to them, “Although I don’t know you personally, I love you, want to help you, and demand justice on your behalf.”

These gifts were given to right a wrong and that’s a great place to start. But what if we were able to say to someone, “Not only are we going to right a wrong, but we’re going to do so with such ambition and gusto that you will have the opportunity—but not the obligation—to stop whatever else it was you were doing and become an agent of change. We believe in you.”

Thanks to her strength and courage, Sonali held strong for nine years. Only now was she prepared to die for want of legal justice and $30,000. Imagine the change she could produce in the world if we raised $500,000 for her, provided a mechanism to protect her from her assailants (such as citizenship in another country), and gave her support and access to resources to become whomever she desired to be.

I agree that it will not be possible to do this for everyone who could benefit. However, individuals who receive a lot of publicity for their story and are clearly on the wrong side of fate are more likely receive funds commensurate with their reach. Individuals who become “famous” might also be able to use this exposure in concert with their newfound resources. Finally, even if we are not able to reach all individuals who can effect change, at least we can start somewhere and help foster a culture of loving-kindness and compassion towards one another.

I can think of a few ways to make this possible and smile at the opportunity. I invite your ideas.

Update Aug 8 2012: A variety of benefactors have come forward to assist Sonali financially and she will be admitted for further care in about a week. (via The Times of India)

5 Comments

  1. Mrs. Archana Bhakare

    August 25, 2012 at 9:30 pm

    I saw Sonali’s story on Crime Patrol today and was stunned to see Indin politicians and society has not done anything for yer all these years. Its a shame!!!
    I was very angry to learn that the criminals have got bail and moving freely in the society.
    The crime thay have done is 100 times worse than murdering a person. They should have got life improsonment for this crime. The cost that Sonali’s family has spent should have been taken from the three criminal’s family. I wish Sonali speedy recovery and peaceful life going forward. My heart goes out to her family. But at the same time I want to see the 3 criminals behind bar. Immediate action should be taken against them.
    Pranab Mukherjee, Mamata Banerjee, Rani Mukherjee and many other who belong to her own state have not come forward to help her.

  2. Sonali mukherjee jo aapke saath hua ,isko bakhan nahi ho sakta.is 3 criminal ko aisa hi saja diya jana chahiye ,es 3 criminal ko all body par acid dala jaye,tab wo log ko galti ka ehsas hoga.aur dusri bat government ko aapko help karna chahiye but koi dhyan nahi de raha hai .agar kisi minister ki daughter ke saath aisa hota to tab pata chalta .ye kalyug hai pata nahi god kaha hai , please god help to sonali mukherjee.I wish aap jaldi thik ho jaye and 3 criminal ko saja mile.

  3. Sonali’s criminals should ideally b publically hanged and before that even their faces should be mangled with acid. They should go through the same pain they made Sonali go through. Anyway that is God’s department how to punish them. But i hope, they will not be spared; neither by Indian Law, nor by God. Bhagwan ke ghar der hai ansdher nahi hai. I love u GOD. 🙂

  4. I have seen Sonali’s story on Crime Patrol couple of months back and today I saw her again on Kaun Banega Karorapati!
    I salute a bravest girl on this planet earth who is an outstanding example of a woman’s strength & courage. My heart melts down every time when I see her and when I hear her story.
    I will pray for Sonali’s fastest recovery to the best level possible & for her family’s better financial condition. I will try to help her in anyway possible for me. My best wishes are always with her.
    I also wish that those three criminals will be behind the bars for lifetime with toughest punishment ever.
    God Bless Sonali and her family.

  5. i pray for sonali for her fastest recovery to best possible way…..and i request to concern dept to take serious action towards these three criminals. So that we can believe more our country judgement.

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