India: Acid-attack Survivors Become Models – By Annarita Tranfici

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The success story of this month tells of the adventure of five really brave women who share a very sad fate: They have all been disfigured by acid attacks. The names of the ladies who joined this project are Rupa, Rita, Sonam, Laxmi and Chanchal; with their desire to live, they have decided to show themselves and their martyred bodies to help women around the world. These young Indian victims of acid have participated in a photo shooting that shows all their beauty, courage, and joy of living where they wore their own creations, strictly in Indian style with a touch of western fashion.

Let’s discover their stories.

Rupa is 22 and she is a stylist. On her face, she still bears the heavy signs of chemical burns. Nevertheless, now that face shows the satisfied smile of a brave girl who was able to realize a dream that seemed impossible. Every year in India the victims of acid attacks are a thousand, mostly teenage girls. Rupa was not hit by an abusive husband or a rejected suitor, but by a stepmother who wanted to get rid of her.  One night the woman came into a room in her family’s house in a village in Uttar Pradesh and hit her while she was sleeping. The girl arrived at the hospital only several hours later and was saved by an uncle who had gone to visit her by chance.

Six years and eleven operations later, Rupa has dropped her last name, as a protest against the father who defended his second wife, and now lives with her uncle.

“At first I was in a pathetic condition, no one could stand my view. My face had become an obstacle even when I went to look for work. I instigated some strange reactions. I suffered and so did my family…

Today Rupa works for the association Stop Acid Attacks which helps survivors of this kind of violence. She’s decided to realize the dream of her childhood: Opening her own boutique in Delhi. She launched the brand Rupa Designs and has presented her first collection where her friends paraded. Moreover, she has started a campaign on to raise funds for her project and become financially independent.

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The increasing number of these attacks has driven the Indian Supreme Court to ask the government to rigidly regulate the selling of chemical products in stores. It’s not a coincidence that the victims almost always belong to the poorest social classes of the population: a bottle of sulfuric acid is a deadly weapon, very cheap and easy to find. Recently, a new law has increased the penalties for perpetrators of such crimes, condemning them up to ten years in prison. Unfortunately, Rupa’s stepmother has been sentenced to a year and a half in prison instead and has peculiarly been discharged already.

“The acid attacks are the product of a widespread mentality in society, together we can eliminate the root.”

Stop Acid Attack’s members explain. It is an attempt to ruin the life of the victim, humiliating her, make her feel guilty and inadequate, force her to hide forever, rather than kill her.

“At first I covered ever flight with a scarf to hide the scars, but now I do not anymore. I’ve always wanted to be a fashion designer, but after the attack there was a break in my life. I was so insecure and embarrassed about my scars that I used a scarf to cover my face. I have always hung on my dream and I never believed that one day it would be possible to launch my own fashion brand.”

Rupa says.
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Rupa Design’s photo shooting wants to share a message of hope with the young Indian women, especially after the shocking campaign of a certain brand that has glorified group violence in India.

I decided to tell this story for two reasons: firstly, to share once again a strong example of women’s courage, strength, and passion for life. Secondly, because this story moved me deeply and made me feel strong emotions. The fact that a girl has decided to reply to such brutal violence with her dream and not with other types of violence has demonstrated her purity of mind and heart, her greatness of spirit, and her great desire to live. Surely, she feels a great sorrow since it’s not simple to work, socialize, and live with a disfigured body, but she has never given up, thinking about how to make her dream come true. It’s clear to her that her life and desires have precious value and for that she has worked hard by challenging prejudices and refusal.

Personally, this story has taught me a lot and I strongly hope that these brave girls would succeed. They have suffered so much and they truly deserve it.


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