Last August, we introduced you to a young woman named Rupa, a survivor turned activist, who, at age 16, was the victim of an acid attack at the hands of her own stepmother. Typically an act of revenge, this heinous crime is committed over 1,000 times a year in India, mostly against young women and girls. This startling reality is what inspired another young woman, Ria Sharma, a concerned student living in England, to turn her dissertation idea into “Make Love Not Scars,” a bold movement designed to help women in India just like Rupa.
When Ria was working on her final, year three project while studying fashion at the renowned Leeds College Of Art in the UK, she decided to write her dissertation on women’s empowerment, a topic she is passionate about. Having paid close attention to all of the horrific news stories of acid attacks on girls and young women coming out of India, she felt compelled to make that the focus of her project.
“Before I knew it I was on my way back to India to spend my final semester making a documentary on acid attacks in India,” she explains on her blog. “When I started meeting with all the brave survivors my life starting changing a little bit. All the petty things that were once important just started to become insignificant.”
“An acid attack is the worst sort of crime you can inflict on another human being and I urge people to come and help.”
Her documentary quickly turned into a full blown movement that Ria launched on behalf of victims of acid attacks. At the core of her “Make Love Not Scars” is a website where acid attack survivors can showcase their talents and share their stories through weekly video-blogs. It’s a safe space that is meant to help uplift, rehabilitate and guide these brave young women. The goal is to “help establish a ‘new normal’ in society where gender-based violence and discrimination of all forms – acid attacks, female foeticide, bride burning, rape etc. – are seen as archaic and unacceptable by all sections of society.”
As the site’s momentum has quickly grown, Ria and her dedicated team are already working to build a wider set of web-based activities, awareness campaigns, as well as a support group.
The site’s latest campaign is a series of three beauty tutorial videos featuring a young woman named Reshma, an 18-year-old whose brother-in-law threw sulfuric acid in her face while she was walking with her sister on her way to take a school exam last year (she was lost her left eye and was severely burned and disfigured).
Reshma’s first “Beauty Tips” video promises to teach viewers to “Learn the right way to wear red lipstick and get that perfect pout every time!” Her second urges, “Follow this quick and easy tutorial – you’ll soon apply eyeliner like a pro!” And the last touts, “Getting a spotless look was never so easy!” But all have a much deeper message and an important call to action… to #endacidsale.
“Beauty can be as easily bought through products that are easily accessible and available, as it can also be taken away just as easily through products that are easily accessible and available.”
In the last 9 months alone, Ria’s “Make Love Not Scars” movement has already funded numerous survivor surgeries, assisted survivors in getting legal aid, and helped others pursue their dreams. Future plans include setting up an NGO that will focus on the following critical areas: help in providing emergency medical and legal assistance to acid attack survivors; support in the rehabilitation of survivors of acid attacks and other forms of gender-based violence (including burning and rape); actively work with the government, other NGOs, the media and other social institutions to campaign against acid attacks and other forms of gender-based violence.