Acid attacks in India often make the front pages of the national newspapers. And sometimes, that's all they remain – just cases on paper. Hardly ever are the perpetrators apprehended, and the victims are left to cope with the psychological trauma, often alone.
Ria Sharma had an idea to make a documentary a year back on acid attack survivors. However, while researching on the topic, she found so many cases that had slipped through the cracks that she decided to help them out. And thus, Make Love Not Scars was born in 2014.
A voice for survivors
Make Love Not Scars (MLNS) started as a website where acid attack survivors could tell their stories. However, each one's story was so compelling, and each survivor so unique that the need to help them blossom surfaced. Ria and her team decided to form a rehabilitation centre that would focus on helping victims of acid attacks.
There are around 1000 cases of acid attacks reported in a year. However, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of cases which aren't reported, as most victims do not come forward to report them.
When MLNS was started, Ria says that they were the ones who approached survivors. It took some amount of coaxing to convince them that they were not alone and that they would be helped. Till date, MLNS has helped around 35 survivors in Delhi.
Each survivor is unique, and each one has a different need. MLNS ensures that each survivor receives the help she needs. While one survivor may need medical treatment urgently, and another, psychological counselling – MLNS recognises the need of each survivor and provides tailor-made assistance for them.
Ria says, “In India, acid is used as a method of hurting someone. It's cheap and easily available, so anyone can access them.” Possibly one of the most heartbreaking repercussions of these attacks is the fact that the perpetrators are hardly ever apprehended. Says Ria, “The conviction rate in acid attacks in India is extremely low. Each of our survivors have reported their cases; none of them have received justice. Even if the criminal is caught and jailed, they're let out on bail. This is especially saddening, as these attacks are a non-bailable offense.”
The survivors at MLNS are from a wide age range. The youngest is a 6 month old baby. Ria speaks of the baby's story, “Her family, which consists of 5 members, and she were sleeping on the terrace of their home, when intruders broke in and attacked them. All the members of the family were attacked, and the poor child was a victim too.” More often than not, the attackers are someone known to the victims. They often use various excuses to justify their heinous acts – from a failed relationship to a family conflict.
Another child being helped by MLNS is a 3 year old girl. She was an unfortunate victim of a family dispute. Ria says, “Her family was caught up in a land dispute. Her mother's brothers were involved and threatened them, by saying they would throw acid at the children. The parents of the children tried complaining to the police, but to no avail; their complaints were not taken seriously. And sadly, the little girl was targetted.” She could have been safe, had the police intervened.
One of the most popular faces at MLNS is Reshma. Reshma was 17 when she was attacked, and was trying to save her sister from her violent brother-in-law. She came in the way of the attacker as he tried to throw acid at his wife's face. Reshma got the worst end of it. Today, Reshma has built up her life back slowly, but the psychological scars may take a long time to heal. Reshma is the face of MLNS' campaign '#EndAcidSale', which urges the public to call for the ban of selling of acid to the common man.
While most of the survivors at MLNS are women, there are two men who are victims of acid attacks too. One of them was trying to save a female friend from an acid attack, when he got attacked. Today, he is on the path to recovery at MLNS. Acts of hatred such as acid attacks do not see gender, age, religion, economic status, or caste.
A sanctuary for survivors
MLNS is a haven for survivors of acid attacks. It aims to provide each and every survivor all the help they require. It helps them with medical, and legal needs, and with counselling. It aims to be a place where the survivors can forget about their woes, even if it is for a little while. MLNS provides skill training for the survivors, which would help them get back out there and pursue their studies and careers. While the organisation has achieved remarkable goals in the last year, it still aims to further improve its survivors' lives and provide help to more victims. For this, it plans to set up a rehabilitation centre. To do so, the organisation requires financial help. The new office will have permanent residence for survivors in need, skill training rooms, classrooms, offices for counsellors, lawyers, and doctors, medical facilities, amongst other features. It also plans to employ two survivors, making it a system for the survivors, by the survivors. To set up the new office, they look to the public for help with the finances required. With a small contribution from you, a new sanctuary for survivors of acid attacks can be set up.