Published: 15th November 2019
The Reshma Qureshi story: How this acid attack survivor went on to become an influencer
Reshma Qureshi recently presented a book written about her Being Reshma at the Bangalore Literature Festival 2019 and the challenging journey of her life moved the audience
Scars, however small, are not often worn with pride. Be it the abdominal scar of a Caesarian section or a small cut in an obvious place, most of us try to hide our scars. But Reshma Qureshi proudly says, "The scars on my face are a part of me and I don't like to hide them." This 23-year-old is one of the many acid attack survivors in India. But unlike many others, Reshma was not attacked by a jilted lover or some random man she rejected. She explains, "I was punished for no mistake of mine. May 19, 2014, is a day I will never forget in my life. Around 7:30 am, I was heading to college with my elder sister Gulshan to write my exams. Suddenly, we heard a voice calling out to Gulshan and to our surprise, it was my sister's husband. When he approached to attack us, the acid first fell on my sister's hand. She instructed me to run away. But by the time I could, two other people held me tightly and acid was poured on my face. They ran away after the attack and several people who were standing around did not come to our help."
Now, it's not some hidden fact that when such crimes occur in India, neither the hospital nor police act fast enough. Soon after the attack, Reshma was rushed to a nearby hospital for treatment but the staff refused to start the treatment until an FIR was filed. She narrates her agonising wait at the police station, "I was in excruciating pain because for me, it was not just my skin burning but my soul too. I was shouting as loudly as I could to tell them everything that had happened. By this time, it was more than seven hours since the attack and I had still not received treatment. That's how I lost vision in my left eye. My family was broken. My father was running around to arrange for money for my treatment and multiple surgeries. We even had to sell all our property to pay for the treatment."
Reshma along with author Tania Singh who is also the CEO of Make Love Not Scars (Pic: Make Love Not Scars)
The rise of a phoenix
Despite all odds, Reshma and her family stood strong and decided to face society. In 2015, an NGO named Make Love Not Scars got in touch with Reshma. The NGO is involved in the rehabilitation of acid attack survivors across India to empower them. They started a campaign titled 'End Acid Sale' under which they shot the series Beauty Tips by Reshma. They shot several videos of Reshma giving beauty tips which concluded with hard-hitting information like 'You'll find a red lipstick in the market... just like concentrated acid'. This particular video garnered over 2 million views and turned Reshma into a star. They also received over 3,50,000 signatures on their petition to stop the illegal sale of acid in the market.
Her growing viewership made Reshma realise that she was stronger than before and that she has to bring about change in the society. Reshma decided to work for the betterment of acid attack survivors and push the government for a ban on acid sale in India. In 2016, she became the first acid attack victim to walk the ramp in the New York Fashion Week 2016. Reshma says, "I had to prepare myself mentally to walk the ramp in New York because until then, some people had expressed displeasure on looking at my face. However, I hardly wasted time thinking of these trivial things. I shed my old skin of shyness and fear and walked the ramp. Surprisingly, people in New York welcomed my decision and the audience received me happily as I was."
Reshma also walked on the ramp at New York Fashion Week 2016
The story behind Being Reshma
In December 2018, Tania Singh, CEO of Make Love Not Scars, released the book Being Reshma, which she had written about Reshma Qureshi whom she met at the NGO. In the past, Tania had been injured in a fire accident and was taken to Singapore for treatment. Luckily with the advanced technology and facilities that are available there, her burn injuries were successfully treated. She says, "I badly wanted to come back to India for my treatment. When I looked out for hospitals here, I could find no proper facilities that could treat my burn injuries. I did some research and came across this NGO. Initially, I joined as a volunteer to create awareness about acid attacks, laws and treatment. Later, I was asked to join full-time. This is when I came across Reshma and her fearless attitude and that led me to write the book. The book is truly her story but it is also a cry for change and the need to implement the necessary laws to ban acid sale in the market." So far, the book has been received well and the money earned from the sale is used for the treatment of other survivors in the NGO.
Reshma and Tania have a lot to say when it comes to bringing changes in society and law. After going through several acid attack cases, Reshma says, "While the acid attackers are responsible for the act, the by-standers who do not dare to stop them or help the victim are equally responsible. They must come to a person's aid instead of just standing and watching. They least they can do is pour a lot of water on the area; water cleans the acid from the face and stops the skin from burning." She adds, "When the victims are taken to the hospital for treatment, it is important that the doctors attend to the victim on an emergency basis. The FIR can be filed later, treatment cannot be delayed. Apart from this, the government has to improve the facilities for the treatment of burn injuries. Similarly, the police must be quick in their actions. In my case, three people were involved in the act. While one person has been arrested and imprisoned, the other two are yet to face justice. The worst part is that of the attackers was 17 years old when the incident happened. He was set free on grounds of being a minor. I question the law and society. What about me? Even I was 17 years old during the attack."
Don't use cold water or ice cubes on the affected skin. Use room temperature water to pour on the skin continuously. If the victim is wearing jewellery, remove it quickly as it can harm the skin
Acid laws in India
In 2013, the Supreme Court banned the over-the-counter sale of acid. It states that the dangerous liquid must be sold only for a valid reason and the buyer must produce valid identity proof and also necessary details of why they require the acid. But like any other law, even this one goes unimplemented. Reshma, Tania and their team at Make Love Not Scars are fighting to stop the illegal sale of acid in India. "I will continue my fight against the sale of acid in the market and acid attacks. It is not just women who are victims. Even men, families, children and transgenders have become victims in India," says Reshma who is undergoing treatment in a hospital in Los Angeles to regain vision in her left eye.