Acid attacks, common in the South Asian region, often thrown by disgruntled lovers and bickering family members, leave behind lifelong scars on the victim. Many of these victims withdraw from their social lives and hide in their rooms, but increasingly, they are gaining confidence by walking on ramps.
Recently, 15 acid attack survivors walked in a fashion show held on Tuesday night in Dhaka, in an attempt to bring attention to the menace of such attacks.
The models, including three men, walked the ramp, and showcased woven handloom Bangladeshi designs by local designer Bibi Russel.
"We are here today to show their inner strength as they have come a long way," said Farah Kabir, country director of the ActionAid Bangladesh that organised the show. "I often take inspiration from them. Their courage is commendable."
Not too long ago, Reshma Qureshi, an acid attack survivor from India, walked the runway at New York Fashion Week and sent out a message of courage and empowerment to other victims of such attacks in the country.
Qureshi had suffered severe burn injuries on her face at the age of 17, in an acid attack in 2014, by several male assailants. She lost her left eye, and her face was deeply scarred.
Almost a year later, when I ask Reshma Qureshi what that walk meant for her, she says it gave her a lot of confidence, something that had been dented after the attack.
Reshma Qureshi, Acid Attack Survivor I feel like things have changed. Today, acid attack victims like me are moving forward. When I walked the ramp at New York Fashion Week, my confidence level spiked. Now, I don’t think I am any less than anyone. People know me now. They respect me for my courage and want to know my story.
Ria Sharma, Founder of Make Love Not Scars, the NGO working with Qureshi, who also accompanied her at New York Fashion Week, says she has closely observed how walking the ramp helped Qureshi regain her confidence after the attack, and how it changed her perception of beauty.
Ria Sharma, Founder of Make Love Not ScarsToday when I look at it, I think Reshma’s ramp walk (at New York Fashion week) did heaps and heaps for her self-confidence. This was a girl, who a year before the ramp walk was bed-ridden, and could not come out of her room. When she walked the ramp and had the whole room give her a standing ovation, it gave a big boost to her self-confidence. Ria Sharma, Founder of Make Love Not Scars When Reshma got off the ramp, she was euphoric, not just because she had walked the ramp, but because this was her moment of triumph. I can’t even describe the look and the twinkle that I saw in her eyes. This is a woman who had been failed by the judicial system and by many doctors. But the ramp walk gave her renewed confidence to take on the world.
Ria doesn’t want to get into the debate of what ramp appearances do for the larger cause of acid attack survivors. After all, battles like these are won, one small victory at a time.
An acid attack survivor walking on fashion ramps often gets a lot of international media coverage, which helps in the sensitisation of the society towards them and also in the ‘normalisation’ of survivors.
Besides helping her gain confidence, the walk also helped Reshma get multiple offers of assistance for surgeries, although, she has put the plan to hold as she is still not ready for it, informs Ria. Reshma is also well on her way to RJ hood, and will soon begin interning at a radio station.
Ria Sharma, Founder, Make Love Not Scars Our survivors walk the ramp, and they get recognition and opportunities, and we are very happy with that.
Reshma has also been called several times to be a speaker for many events, and Ria says that she ensures the survivors get paid for such events, thereby giving them an indirect source of income.
In September 2016, another acid attack survivor, Laxmi, walked the runway in London for a fashion show organised by a British Asian Trust charity, to raise awareness about acts of violence against women.
On 5 March this year, Amruta Fadnavis, wife of Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, too, organised a ramp walk with acid attack survivors for her NGO Divyaj Foundation.
Such ramp appearances are definitely a sign of shifting mentalities, and bring to light the power of a fashion ramp to create a huge social movement.
Earlier this year, The Quint featured Soniya, survivor of another gruesome acid attack, and asked her what it meant for the beautician and self-confessed 'vain' person to look at her reflection – before the attack, right after the attack, after her first surgery, and now. She told us that although her face had changed a lot over the last 12 years, to herself she still looked beautiful – ekdum perfect.
The number of (reported) acid attack cases has increased from 83 in 2011 to 349 in 2015, as quoted in The Wire.
The numbers point out how the country has been unable to curb this form of violence. Acid continues to be sold openly, despite an SC directive to regulate the availability of acid passed three years ago. The country still has the worst conviction rates although it has the highest number of acid attacks in the world.
In the middle of all this, if a ramp is offering a platform to these survivors and helping in shifting mentalities — never mind the perceived shallowness of the stage — one would say it is still serving as a pretty powerful medium to deliver an important message.
(With inputs from AP)