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Burn Survivor to BBC Presenter: Sneha Jawale's Story of Defiance

"Even after 23 surgeries, no one was able to take away my smile," Sneha Jawale tells The Quint.

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Video Editor: Karuna Mishra, Purnendu Pritam

"I am happy with how I am looking today. Even after 23 surgeries, no one was able to take away my smile. No one could take away my strength. So, yes, I am beautiful."

This is the first thing that Sneha Jawale says, as she sits in front of her laptop screen for a Zoom interview with The Quint.

Sneha wears many hats – she is an activist, a craftswoman, an astrologist, a trained Reiki healer, and now, a guest anchor at BBC India. Sneha is also a domestic violence and burn survivor.

"This [job] has been my dream since 2015. I spoke to two-three Marathi news channels. They gave me the go-ahead, but it didn't work out. Now, what has happened with the BBC – the world's number one channel – I cannot describe the happiness," she told The Quint.

She will be presenting explainer videos for the news organisation. BBC India hired her after she told them about her dream when they featured her as one of the world's 100 inspiring women in 2022.
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'My Son Gave Me the Strength'

In December 2000, Sneha's then-husband set her on fire with kerosene, after her family could not meet his relentless demands for dowry. Her then four-year-old son saw this happen. She suffered 80 percent burns and spent 2.5 months in the hospital.

But during that period, it was her son who gave her the strength to survive, she says.

"My son saw me and cupped my face. He said it was very pink and white – like Kashmiri people. He looked at me and said, 'You are looking like a Kashmiri girl. You are looking pink, pink baby. You are looking beautiful, more than me, mama.' He told me that he didn't feel scared looking at me. My child sat with me and fed me chapatti that day."
Sneha Jawale to The Quint
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'No One Was Ready To Give Me a Job'

But when she wanted to find a job after recovery, everyone would turn her away – from schools to call centres.

"I could teach them crafts, Marathi. I hold a BEd and I used to teach in a school. Children don't get scared seeing burn victims. It is the people who tell them what to get scared about. They'll say, 'No, my child won't go.' They would put the kid over their shoulder. But the child would still turn their face and see you."

"When I would apply for call centre jobs, I would clear the phone round. Then later, when I had to meet the employers in person, they would say, 'Sorry Ma'am, we have forgotten to tell you, but there's no opening now. We just filled it up yesterday. In case there is an opening, we will tell you. I would just say 'namaste, thank you,'" she narrated.

But Sneha found the courage to sustain herself – by starting tuitions for school children and selling handmade art. Her life changed once again in 2013 when she was cast in Nirbhaya – an acclaimed play by director Yael Farber – in which she enacted scenes from her own life in over 300 stagings.

"She told me that there is a show on Nirbhaya and asked if I wanted to work for it. I said, 'If you are looking for it, I am a burn survivor. I have burns on my face. I don't know if you remember. Do you want to call another Sneha? She said, no, I am talking to you, and I know it and that's why I am talking to you."
Sneha Jawale
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'Don't Ostracise Burn Survivors'

Sneha hopes to live in a world where burn survivors are not ostracised and are given a chance at employment.

"After a burn or acid attack, your face value is over. Your identity is finished. It becomes very difficult to survive on your own. Where there is no face value, no identity, your name is off from the beauty segment. For jobs also, the same criteria apply, they need a good-looking, fair, tall person. So, the names of (burn survivors) are removed from all these lists."

"Firstly, without covering my face, I have gone all over the world for work. And secondly, what is beauty? If someone is born differently, are they not beautiful? Even a stone will look beautiful if you see it that way," she added.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  BBC   Domestic Violence   Domestic Abuse 

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