Imagine living in a world where you could easily become disfigured through the premeditated act of someone throwing acid on you. For Reshma Qureshi, this nightmare became her reality.
One morning, 17-year old Reshma was viciously attacked by her brother-in-law and two other male assailants who held her down and poured acid all over her face — an assault that was originally intended for her sister who tried to escape her abusive marriage. In her memoir Being Reshma, she wrote,
“The first thing I noticed was my niqab melting off my face. Then came the smell of burning flesh. Mine. All of this while I couldn’t stop screaming.”
Unfortunately, she’s far from the only victim. Acid is extremely accessible in South Asia. And while other weapons like guns and knives are highly regulated, acid can easily be found at corner stores for cheaper than a can of soda.
India is desperately trying to regulate the sale of acid but is having trouble putting the laws into effect. According to Tania Singh, CEO of Make Love Not Scars, an Indian non-profit that works with acid attack survivors,
“Shops selling the substances are required to keep detailed logs of quantities sold and the purpose, name, and addresses of buyers. The problem is there is a lack of implementation of the law. Acid continues to be disguised as a cleaning agent and sold because it is the source of income for small business owners. People value money more than a woman’s life.”
That’s certainly not the only problem plaguing acid attack survivors. Finding a specialized burn hospital can be difficult, especially in rural towns. And even if you’re lucky enough to get into a hospital with the medical expertise to treat you, hospitals often won’t do a thing before getting paid.
And while India has established a 10-year minimum sentence for acid throwing, the law is rarely enacted. Tania explained,
“Often an attack is orchestrated by multiple family members, but only the individual who physically threw it is punished fully. The [rest] get away with it. It is difficult to manage arrests because state police are not in touch with each other. Attackers can easily flee one jurisdiction to another.”
As for the survivors themselves, their disfigurement lasts a lifetime and the consequences follow them wherever they go.
22-year-old Anmol Rodriguez was just two months old when her father attacked her mother. She said,
“He wanted to kill my mom. I was in her lap when it fell on me. After my mom died and my father was arrested, I spent the next five years in a hospital under the care of nurses and doctors. I grew up in an orphanage in Mumbai.”
“When I lived on my own, I faced discrimination at work and was not accepted by society. People told me that if they touched me they also will become ugly. The same society that did not help me, now mocked and shamed my appearance.”
Despite everything that both Reshma and Anmol have been through, neither is letting the acid attacks run their lives. Reshma made her runway debut in New York Fashion Week 2016. She also became the face of a global beauty campaign that doubled up as a public service announcement to assist in the regulation of acid sales and to raise awareness.
As for Anmol, she’s acted in a short film “Auntiji” and has become a social media influencer who uses her platform to spread love and positivity. She said,
“The acid ruined my face, but [it] will not ruin my spirit. I want to become a famous actress in Mumbai and one day even have a family of my own.”
Reshma and Anmol refuse to hide behind archaic societal constructs of who they ought to be post-attack. They are scarred but are unafraid to continue vocalizing their stories for those who have not yet found the courage to come forward.
To learn more about the organization Make Love Not Scars, you can check out their website here.