This September saw 19-year-old Reshma Qureshi walk the ramp at the New York Fashion week in a long-sleeved, white gown with appliqués by Indian designer Archana Kochhar. More importantly, Reshma challenged perceptions of beauty because she is an acid attack survivor. It was only two years ago that her face was disfigured with acid when she was on her way to write her exams in Allahabad.
She went through several skin-graft surgeries while battling suicidal tendencies and all through this the organisation Make Love Not Scars, saw her through. Delhi-based Ria Sharma’s college project turned full-time passion, this organisation assists acid attack survivors in every way possible — financially, legally and morally. Reshma is just one of the 70 odd survivors that Ria’s organisation has helped through their rehabilitation centre in Delhi. From being a survivor, Reshma has now graduated to being an activist, as she was the face of the organisation’s yearly campaign, End Acid Sale.
This time around, they have a bigger campaign coming up but Ria is not ready to reveal the details yet.
In the process of shooting for the campaign, the survivors and Ria had the opportunity to meet King Khan, as they happened to be shooting in the same studio in Mumbai. “The girls were over the moon. Honestly, it was the happiest moment,” recollects Ria, who turned 24 last month.
Hard to imagine that these are the girls whose faces and lives were disfigured permanently by what Ria describes as the “easiest weapon” — acid.
“As opposed to a gun, acid is easily available in any shop. It’s also cheap, around `30 per litre,” Ria says, adding that those who commit this crime are usually spurned lovers with the mentality of ‘If I can’t have you, no one else can’. But in the light of the recent acid attack on a businessman in Bhubaneswar, it is safe to say that this crime is no longer gender bound.
“When I started out, I was clear with my demographic, to help acid-victim girls who are usually between 15 to 25 years of age but that has now changed. The youngest in the organisation is a six-month-old baby and the oldest, a 75-year-old woman. Acid is fast becoming the choice of weapon nowadays,” she says.
This weapon not only sends its survivors into depression and financially drains them - due to the medical surgeries and treatments, the society too, with their victim-blaming mindset, shuns them. It is her organisation that not only shelters them but through their courses and workshops, helps them stand on their own two feet again and sometimes, strut down the ramp too — just like Reshma Qureshi did.
Reach Out: makelovenotscars.org