The cafe run by acid attack survivors

Close to the Taj Mahal, in Agra, India, in a small cafe tucked between trinket shops, five women-all maimed in acid attacks-are waiting tables downstairs or cooking curries in the kitchen upstairs.

Their work at Sheroe's Hangout is designed to give them the confidence to show their faces in public after being disfigured.

And it goes the other way too.

If customers haven't met someone with acid scars before, they will have by the time they leave the cafe. Pictures of the women's faces adorn the walls and their images are writ large in graffiti on the exterior.

"The primary focus has been to create awareness," says Alok Dixit, the founder of Stop Acid Attacks, the Delhi-based nonprofit behind the establishment, which opened in December.

The cafe and its popularity-it attracted more than 5,000 customers in the first six months, according to the nonprofit-reflect a shifting attitude toward survivors of acid attacks and to the crime itself in India, where around 309 cases were reported in 2014.

Reforms to the law in 2013, made attacking someone with acid a separate offence, punishable with up to 10 years in prison. Before that, perpetrators were dealt with under laws relating to intentionally causing grievous hurt and were harder to convict.

A subsequent ban on over-the-counter sales of acid and mandatory free treatment for the victims of attacks have also helped to lift the veil on a crime that forced those affected by it into the shadows.

From behind the counter at Sheroe's, 23-year-old Neetu Mahour, greets customers wearing a white shirt with Stop Acid Attacks written in bold red letters on the back.

Scars snake across her face. Acid, thrown in her eyes by her father 20 years ago, left her almost blind.

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