For some women, the price of spurning a man’s desire is a life sentence in constant physical pain, emotional trauma and social ignominy. With increasing cases of acid attacks on women across the country – 283 acid attacks were recorded in 2016 – law enforcement agencies, despite attempts, have not been enough to curb access to hazardous chemicals. Which means turning down a man’s unwanted advances is fraught with life-threatening risk, as India’s many hapless acid-attack victims would testify.
The encouraging sign is that, of late, the cause of acid-attack survivors has captured the attention of do-gooders, urban society and mainstream media. NGOs and social enterprises such as Chhanv Foundation, Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan’s Meer Foundation and Sheroes Hangout have come up to help heal and rehabilitate survivors while also assisting them in legal matters.
One such NGO is Make Love Not Scars. Launched in 2014 by Ria Sharma, a social activist and the first Indian to receive the UNICEF Global Goals Awards for 2017, the organization has rehabilitated over 60 acid-attack survivors so far. Ria was also the first Indian to receive the United Nations Bill and Melinda Gates Global GoalKeeper award in 2018.
This Valentine’s Day, Ria’s NGO has partnered with jewellery label Atelier Mon to create awareness about acid attacks. Through a series of portraits and survivor stories, the campaign with the hashtag #LoveOverScars features survivors wearing Atelier Mon jewellery and sharing the message that nothing can break their spirit and their faith in love. The campaign will run until 15th March.
Here’s a look at the women in the campaign.
Reshma Qureshi, 22, was attacked in 2014 by her sister’s husband. He would beat Reshma’s sister mercilessly and when she left him, he threw acid on Reshma in an attempt to punish the family by disfiguring their daughter’s beautiful face. He left scars but he was not able to break her spirit. Reshma has gone on to accomplish more than she had imagined; she has even walked the ramp at New York Fashion Week. She says her main source of strength came from the widespread love and support she received from thousands of people on social media.
Anju, 32, faced the wrath of her own husband when she refused to ask her parents for dowry. He threw acid on her in 2014, but he couldn’t wipe that charming smile off her face forever. Her mother and her three children stood by her through all the pain and the healing, and are the reason she still believes in love.
Zakira’s husband threw acid on her when he suspected she was having an affair because she was trying to lose weight! Her two little children stuck by her side and it is her love for them that has kept this 28-year-old going. During this photo shoot she picked up a single earring and said, “You have to celebrate and make the most of what you have, even if that means wearing an earring on the only ear you have left.”
Anu was attacked by her neighbour, a 25-year-old man, when she was just 13 years old. He would continuously tease her and, when she complained to her parents, he got angry and threw acid on her. Her family, especially her father, stood by her and supported her decision to live her life by moving to Delhi to study and work, while she received her treatment. It is their love and support that gave her the strength to make the most of her life.
Soni was attacked with acid by her husband in 2008, when he wanted more dowry. Her best friend Sneha was her rock through everything and it is her love that made Soni believe she was not alone. Despite the scars, it was her friend’s love that helped her stand back up and live her life to the fullest. She has now moved to New Delhi, and manages the rehabilitation center for Make Love Not Scars, and helps other survivors find their way to a better life.
Founder of Make Love Not Scars, Ria Sharma says, “Life does not end because of whatever may happen with you. You do not need to become invisible [after an attack] but rather excel in whatever you aim to do. Seen wearing Atelier Mon collections, all the survivors look confident and beautiful and are role models in the true sense of the word.”
Customers who shop from the Atelier Mon website during this month get a 10 percent discount on their purchase using the code 10MLNS. Portion of proceeds will be donated to the NGO.