Around 1,500 acid attacks are recorded around the world every year — a number which the Acid Survivors Trust International states is almost certainly underreported. The figure is especially high in India, where it’s estimated that 1,000 attacks take place every year; although legislation was introduced earlier this year in an effort to curb violence against women, the government is still frequently criticized for inaction in response to acid attacks. But a powerful photo campaign featuring acid attack survivors is working not only to raise awareness, but also — and perhaps more importantly — to redefine beauty.
Delhi-based fashion designer Rupa was the victim of an attack in 2008, when her step mother threw acid in her face while she was sleeping. Her uncle found her six hours later and brought her to the hospital; over the course of three months, she underwent 11 operations in an effort to treat her injuries. Now 22, she has dropped her last name and regained control of her life, taking her dreams and running with them. “I always wanted to be a designer, but after the attack, there was a pause in my life,” she told the Daily Mail. “I was so insecure and embarrassed by my scars I used to cover my face with a scarf. I always hung onto my dream, but I never knew that one day it would be possible and I would be launching my own label.”
The launch is happening in conjunction with Stop Acid Attacks and their support center for survivors, Chhaon. They’re currently raising funds to help Rupa open her own clothing boutique in Delhi; in addition to selling Rupa’s designs, the boutique would be staffed by other acid attack survivors. To support the launch of the label Chhaon asked Rahul Saharan to shoot a campaign featuring Rupa’s designs modeled by Rupa herself and four fellow acid attack survivors, Ritu, Lakshmi, Chanchal, and Sonal. Courageous and beautiful, the five women pose with elegance and grace, making a far more powerful statement than any amount of words could express.
The album, which Saharan posted on his Facebook page, has been shared over 3,000 times. “I had not thought this will get recognized by anyone beyond my Facebook friends,” the photographer told Mic. “Our only motive was to change people’s perceptions about beauty and make a positive statement that these women are beautiful, and so are all other women who are told they are not fair enough or thin enough.” About the shoot, he noted, “We wanted to keep the photos simple, candid, and focus on their real laughter. Because no cosmetics can buy you that.” Hear, hear. Additionally, Saharan told the Independent, “I have been associated with Chhaon for the last two-and-a-half years, but this is the first time I feel like I’ve put my skills to good use to help these lovely girls.”
Rupa has already begun to sell her clothing. Said the designer to the New York Daily News, “The last six years have been tough, so if I can set up my own boutique and work towards becoming financially independent, then anyone can. I never imagined my dreams could come true, but now I believe anything is possible.”
Images: Rahul Saharan Photography/Facebook