This NGO is trying to give acid attack survivors a safe space and another chance at life!
Women in developing countries have been becoming victims of acid attacks for a long time but recently, there has been a global rise. With the easy availability of acid and no accountability laws, women are openly being tortured for the fragile male egos they so easily wound.
Although, many Asian countries including India, has been doing a great deal of work to counter the damage done. Many organizations hold the belief that acid attack victims have a second chance at life and also provide medical treatment to the survivors.
Make Love Not Scars is one such non-governmental organization started by 21-year-old Ria Sharma.
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The NGO works with acid attack survivors, rehabilitating them, providing them with an education and helping them with medical and legal advice.
Ria was inspired to get into social work when she was studying fashion at Leeds College of Arts. While she was in India, shooting a documentary for her final year project, she understood the reason behind the increasing attacks.
She explained: “I knew that the documentary would help spread a lot of awareness in the West about this problem that we had in India. But I wasn’t convinced that it was going to save lives. So, I decided to take the name of my film, Make love not scars and turn it into a fully fledged organisation.”
Ria believes that over the past few years, more people have been using acid as a form of weapon. The cases have multiplied this fast as many of the perpetrators roam free.
She discussed her journey: “The demographics when I started three years ago were extremely different. It was always a girl, aged between 16-25 and always a spurned lover who would commit the crime.’
“But now, my youngest survivor is a six-month old baby boy, my oldest is a 65-year-old woman and in the middle, there are men and we have even had cases where animals have been attacked using acid.”
Sapna is a 24-year-old acid attack survivor and has been associated with the NGO for the past three years after being attacked in 2013.
She took a stand and reported the case which led to two males being sentenced to 11-years of imprisonment.
She said: “My cousin’s brother in law committed the crime. He liked me and wanted to marry me. But I wasn’t ready as he was much older and I wanted to study more. So I refused. He first threatened me. But I still declined. That hurt his ego.”
Working with ‘Make Love Not Scars‘ has helped Sapna come to terms with the aftermath of the attack and also acted as a strong support system. In this case, her family was also very supportive and stood by her side.
She said: “When I was attacked I thought nothing good is going to happen now. I just thought that I will live in closed room. My father supported me a lot. I wasn’t even ready to fight the legal case, but he insisted that I do. I am even married now.”
Sapna has learnt how to make jewelry and liquid soaps, which helps her make a living. Now, she is learning English and taking computer classes.
Ria has now started a campaign called #SkillsNotScars, under which the survivors present a video CV for potential employment opportunities.
Sapna explained: “The idea was that if we send someone a resume for a job they would tend to think that it would be a normal CV. But we made video CV because we are not like normal girls. We have been attacked. So, we wanted people to see us along with the CV.”
The campaign has brought a phenomenal response. It filled the gap and created much awareness and attention towards the issue. Soon, employers were ready with open doors for hiring people with disfigurement which was a massive milestone in itself.
Mamta, another survivor, used to work as a beautician who was attacked with acid in 2010 and as a result, lost an eye.
She said: “After joining Make Love not Scars, I met other survivors like me. I have learnt so many things here. I am learning how to read and write English. We are going to have computer classes very soon. All of this is going to help me get back on my feet.”
Ria said: “Very few acid attack survivors end up getting justice and its years and years later. They are entitled to a compensation from the government, which either gets stuck in paperwork or they just don’t see the light of day.”
“Another issue is that many of these cases are not reported due to fear of social stigma and victim blaming. And acid itself is so easily available.”
The Indian Justice system has imposed very strict laws and punishments for such crimes, but the system lacks implementation.
Sapna, Mamta and many other acid attack survivors like them who had forlorn the thought of living a normal life are now rising on their feet by making their scars their strength with the help of Ria’s organization.