Acid attack survivors Reshma and Laxmi caught the attention of the world last week with their debuts at the New York Fashion Week (NYFW) and London Fashion Week (LFW) respectively, bringing the issue of acid attack to the fore.
Reshma Qureshi, the teen acid attack survivor, graced the stage of NYFW last week, walking on the ramp for ace Indian designer Archana Kochhar, known for her global range of couture. Reshma, opts to volunteer with Make Love Not Scars, an organisation that primarily aims at stopping open acid sales in India, along with helping awareness programmes regarding issues in the country, reintegration and psychological help to the acid attack survivors.
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Laxmi featured at the LFW for Indian clothing label VivaNDiva as their “Face of Courage” campaign just this weekend. She was among the two women who featured at the LFW. She has worked immensely to aid recovery for other women who were subjected to such an atrocious fate after she recovered herself. Her resolution and courage as a survivor remains a testimony and her involvement with various projects and organisations such as Stop Acid Attacks comes out as an initiative to address the well-being of the survivors.
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Both these women have been petitioning to the Indian government to have a careful look into the solution to this growing social violence in India, demanding regulation in sale of the acids used in these attacks as well as implement strict laws against such activities. Easily available, acid in the form of cleaning liquids or other acidic and corrosive liquids are rampantly used in these assaults, whose victims are frequently and unfortunately women, pointing to a very root level gender violence.
Legal steps not enough
In 2013, an amendment to the Indian Penal Code (IPC) through the Criminal Law Amendment Act (2013), sections 326 A and 326 B of the IPC recognised acid attacks an offence with a punishment of imprisonment not less than 10 years to life imprisonment with a fine. Even with India’s top court ruling on need for regulation on the sale of acid, changes are yet to see the better side of things.
However, as Jaf Shah, executive director of Acid Survivors Trust International (ASTI) points out, the problem lies beyond the laws pertaining to it. ASTI is an international organisation that works with partners in six priority countries to raise local capacity to treat survivors and lower the number of attacks through awareness raising initiatives, to deal with the physical, psychological and social scarring that acid attacks eventually result in.
While dealing this issue, one might overlook the gendered nature of this form of violence and the social context that make for compelling factors. However, to address violence against women and girls India must look at a change in the cultural patterns to say the least. “The underlying cause of acid violence is high levels of gender inequality and discrimination. These cultural patterns means that violence against women and girls is tolerated and in some cases actually encouraged,” Jaf said.
Sending a strong message
Social discrimination prevails around the survivors, supplemented by ideals of beauty that prevail in our society. Protest against the shallow practices of ostracisation leads courageous survivors such as Reshma and Laxmi walk the ramps of the most important events of the fashion industry in the world, challenging the norm and making a statement loud enough for the society to reverberate. There is certainly a reason for celebration, “In the majority of cases perpetrators of acid attacks are seeking to deliberately disfigure the features of a woman (rather than kill), to render her unattractive by the commonly held perceptions of beauty. The display of courage, resilience and strength of survivors to go public defies the mean intentions,”says Jaf.
With Reshma and Laxmi walking the ramps of the glamorous NYFW and LYF, survivors are sending a strong message to the society challenging their notions of beauty, playing an important part in the reintegration of the survivors into rebuilding confidence and independence.
Jaipur , Rajasthan