Mumbai, Dec 23: The brave victim of an horrific acid attack as a teenager has won the jackpot on India’s most popular TV quiz show.
Sonali Mukherjee was left completely disfigured by the attack which happened when she was just 17-years-old and her family have since spent all their money funding her treatment.
But the 27-year-old, from New Delhi, will be able to pay for another round of plastic surgery after scooping the top prize on India’s version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire?
Filiming: acid attack victim Sonali Mukherjee pictured on Who Wants to be a Millionaire? with former Miss Universe Lara Dutta and host Amitabh Bachchan, known as Big B. The acid attack victim won the show’s top prize which will fund the next stage of her treatment
Sonali, who was attacked by a spurned suitor and his friends, won Rs 25 lakhs - the equivalent of almost £30,000 - as she appeared on show with Bollywood actress and former Miss Universe Lara Dutta.
The show’s host Amitabh Bachchan, known as Big B in India, praised Sonali’s bravery in appearing on the show.
He said: ’Denied justice, she pleaded publicly to end her life. Denied that too because euthanasia is illegal in the country, she decided not to remain silent and suffer.
’Her story is one of immense courage.
Desperate: Sonali, pictured worshipping at a Sikh temple earlier this month, wrote to the Indian Government earlier this year threatening to kill herself if she didn’t receive any state funding for treatment
’The nation salutes her as do all of us, but simultaneously hangs its head in shame for this dastardly act.’
Sonali, who has undergone surgery 22 times since the 2003 attack, said that the win was the perfect treatment for her wounds.
She was a promising student in her hometown of Dhanbad, in the eastern Indian Jharkhand region, at the time of the attack, which saw her doused in a chemical called Tezaab, normally used to clean rusted tools.
Her attackers broke into her home and poured acid on her as she slept.
She remains partially blind and deaf as a result of her injuries.
Since then she has received no state funding for her treatment and earlier this year she wrote to the Indian Government threatening to kill herself if she did not receive state aid.
Courage: Sonali, who was a promising student before the attack in 2003, was praised by the show’s host Amitabh Bachchan for her bravery
Special episode: Sonali appeared on a special edition of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? which featured contestants who had shown courage in the face of adversity
Her attackers are currently out on bail after serving just four months in jail with no one ever properly convicted of the crime.
Sonali’s winnings will pay for the next round of plastic surgery but she is still appealing for donations to help fund further operations once the money has run out.
Sonali has undergone 22 operations since the 2003 attack which saw her lose most of her facial features. She is partially blind and deaf as a result of her injuries.
Her family have had to sell ancestral land, her mother’s jewellery and had run out of money for further treatment before her win.
The series of operations and consultations that Sonali has endured have already cost hundreds of thousands of rupees.
She says that it will cost an estimated £1.5million rupees for her to look ’even remotely human’ and to have her eyesight restored.
Earlier this year some Rs 30 lakh was raised by Mumbai-based company Beti as part of Project Hope which aims to give Sonali a new identity.
Celebrities such as Bollywood actress Juhi Chawla and producer Ramesh Tauran also donated funds to the appeal.
The former NCC Cadet was allegedly sexually abused for years by her attackers and was studying sociology honours while juggling a job at the time of the attack.
Her family were forced to flee Dhanbad and her mother fell into a deep depression.
Tragic: Sonali walks with her father Chandi Das Mukherjee at her home in New Delhi. Her attackers have never been brought to justice with three spending several months in jail before being released.
Her father Chandi Das Mukherjee said, ’We appealed in the high court... Nothing happened. They were sent to jail but were released soon after... Now they are busy enjoying their lives.’
’The law against acid attackers needs to be made tougher. Otherwise we will have many more Sonalis.’
The show, which is called Kaun Banega Crorepati and is in its sixth series, was famously featured in Oscar winning Danny Boyle film Slumdog Millionaire.
Sonali’s appearance came as part of a one off show called Doosra Mauka, or Second Chance, which featured contestants who have shown courage in the face of adversity.