NEW DELHI: She has walked the fashion ramp in New York, but ain't no model. Reshma Qureshi, an acid attack survivor, feels India is becoming "more focused on looks" and says it's a pity that people in the country stare at those who don't fit the "norm".
"Walking the New York Fashion Week and the Surat fashion show for Archana Kocchar is proof of global acceptance of different beauty standards. But I believe that, in India, it is only a very small number of people who think this way," Reshma told IANS in an email interview from Mumbai.
"Most people still turn and stare at anyone who isn't the norm -- be it a person on a wheelchair, someone crippled, amputated, fat, or a survivor of acid attacks, including me," added the brave young girl who has become a campaigner against acid attacks.
Reshma also feels that India is becoming more focused on looks.
"Till today, whitening products are sold openly and proudly. People cherish fairer daughters and attempt to wash out dark skins. Girls want to stay as thin as possible and boys are taking more and more dangerous protein shakes," she said.
The teenager, who supports the "Make Love Not Scars" initiative, doesn't want people to feel sorry for her sufferings. Instead, she wants them to channel their anger towards making the world a better place to live for women.
"There is more acceptance of acid attack victims abroad -- however, perhaps less awareness. It's complex, but abroad, especially the West, acid attack survivors are given rehabilitation, emotional care, carry on to get married and lead normal lives. In countries like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iraq... a person is defined by that attack for life," Reshma said.
"People still stare a lot and feel sorry for me. They shouldn't feel sorry for me, they should feel angry with me."
Last year, Reshma made her voice heard when she stepped out to walk the New York Fashion Week (NYFW) runway. She also made a fashionable statement along with actress Bipasha Basu by walking for designer Archana Kochhar in Surat.
Reshma's life was normal like any teenager till the fateful day when she suffered severe facial burns and lost an eye at the age of 17 in 2014 after being attacked with sulfuric acid by several male assailants in Allahabad, a city in Uttar Pradesh.
She didn't aspire to be an inspirational figure for thousands of women around the globe, but is now dedicated towards her mission.
She said: "I look back at my struggle and still think over how futile all of this is. There was no need for me to be attacked by my brother-in-law as revenge to my sister. I had nothing to do with anything. I was innocent -- my sister was innocent. The pain was unbearable, my bones were showing because my skin had charred off. I lost one eye. Why? What was all of this for?
"However, it was the people behind me who made me overcome depression. If I had killed myself -- my parents, brothers and sister would not have survived and I know that. Till today, my attack haunts my parents more than myself. I know I'm an inspirational figure -- but I wish I wasn't. I wish it had never happened to me and never happens to anyone else."
She only hopes the Indian government comes up with stringent laws.
"There is more conversation around acid attacks and people are now being jailed more often. However, they are being released sooner. Although acid sale is banned in some states, people still sell it illegally. There have to be random checks and stricter laws," said Reshma, who has also been supported by Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan.