Reshma Qureshi was 17 when an acid attack was made on her by three men, including her sister's hostile husband. She was in Allahabad to write an exam, hoping to finish her education and get a job, but her life changed that day. Her face was severely burnt and disfigured, and one of her eyes was damaged permanently.
After a year of physical and emotional turmoil, Reshma joined Make Love Not Scars, an NGO that works for acid attack victims in India. Last year, Reshma made it to the headlines by featuring in a viral video that focused on the fact that acid was as easily available as lipstick in India.
Recently, in a display of her quiet defiance as a survivor, Reshma walked the ramp at the prestigious New York Fashion Week. "This is my first time in New York and I’m very excited. I think it’s important that people hear the story about the survivors of acid attacks and know they can lead normal lives," she told the Independent.
Reshma plans to complete her education and hopes to set an example for other acid attack survivors. "Why should we not enjoy our lives? What happened to us is not our fault and we’ve done nothing wrong, and so we should also move forward in life," she told The Guardian in an interview.
Acid attacks are common in India even today. According the Acid Survivors Foundation India (ASFI), 349 people, mostly women, had acid thrown on them in deliberate assaults last year. The number is three times higher than what was reported in 2013 and more than four times higher than in 2010. According to the NGO, less than half of these attacks come to light.
Most of these attacks are due to rejection of marriage, refusal by women of sexual advances, or dowry disagreements. Land, property and business disputes account for another 20 percent of these assaults. Many of them get seriously injured; some die. Most chemical assault survivors do not come out in public, and lead a quiet confined life in the dark. Some find it hard to stand the humiliation and commit suicide.