[PHOTOS] Acid Attack Survivors Pose For Inspiring Photoshoot To Challenge Beauty Standards
In India, when a girl is attacked by acid, it's not just her body that is damaged. It also shatters her confidence and her status in society, for now she is no longer "beautiful".
But For Rahul Saharan, there is nothing more beautiful than a smile on a person's face. In his series Shoot for Beauty, the New Delhi-based photographer focuses on the smiles of acid attack survivors who have been hiding their faces for years.
For the shoot, Rahul collaborated with a non-profit called Stop Acid Attacks, a campaign against acid violence, to help these girls feel confident enough to have their pictures taken
Rahul's inspiring project features five young women — Rupa, Ritu, Lakshmi, Chanchal and Sonal — who have survived acid attacks, smiling in front of a camera for the first time since then
When New Delhi-based photographer Rahul Saharan started working on a project for Stop Acid Attacks, a campaign against acid violence, he never imagined such an overwhelming response to his pictures. But the inspiring photoshoot, featuring five acid attack victims — Rupa, Ritu, Lakshmi, Chanchal and Sonal — clearly struck a chord on Facebook, where it racked up more than 30,000 likes in the last week.mic.com
Rupa, one of the survivors and models, who designed all the dresses in the shoot, said: "after the acid attack I never took photos"
22-year-old Rupa was 15 years old when she was attacked by her stepmother and four men following a dispute about money
"That night, after acid was poured on my face, I could not see anything. I could not open my eyes, I was screaming," she said. "But no one came to help me. My stepmother watched me suffering." After that night, everything changed. "My studies stopped, I stopped playing."cnn.com
It was only three years after the acid attack that Rupa gathered enough courage to look at her face in the mirror. It was her childhood dream, to be a designer and Rupa designed the outfits for all the models featured on the photo shoot including herself.huffingtonpost.com
“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.”dailymail.co.uk
Rupa has worked with Stop Acid Attacks and Chhaon, a support center and medical facility for acid attack survivors, to help other victims and to become financially independent
Since her attack, she has worked tirelessly to become financially independent. While helping other victims with the organization Stop Acid Attacks, Rupa decided to pursue her dream while helping her friends and fellow survivors heal with a fashion shoot using her own designs. "It was basically for her rehabilitation program...she is a survivor and very hard-working girl," Saharan said to Mashable.mashable.com
While most survivors suffer from low self esteem due to their condition, Rahul comments on Facebook that "these girls are strong enough to show that [they] love to get photographed"
"In our society, there are lots of things said to the girls — you are not beautiful, you won't get married because your skin is not white and fair," Rahul told CNN. He hopes fellow acid attack victims will be inspired by the photo shoot as well. "I want to change the perception of beauty — tell people that the real beauty is not about having a fair skin.cnn.com
Globally 1,500 women are yearly subjected to acid attacks. These attacks disfigure victims' appearances, and their muscles and internal organs are affected as well. They struggle to find work, and many are driven to suicide, according to various reports.
However, some progress has been made in terms of working to curb acid attacks. Laxmi, another survivor involved in the shoot, collected 27,000 signatures for a petition to reduce acid sales - an initiative that eventually made its way to the Indian Supreme Court.
The court ordered the Indian central and state governments to better regulate the sale of acid, and the parliament to make prosecutions of acid attacks easier to pursue. Still, advocates say, the laws are not being strictly implemented, CNN reported. "Yes, the law is on paper, but you can find acid easily in local markets," Alok Dixit, founder of Stop Acid Attacks, told CNN.huffingtonpost.com
While these advocates say there’s much more work for them to do to prevent these attacks and bring justice to survivors, they’ve already succeeded in bringing the face of this horrific crime to the public eye.cnn.com
Laxmi, who was attacked when she was 16 by her brother’s friend because she had denied his advances, has already garnered a number of prestigious honors. Last March she was one of 10 women to receive the U.S. Department of State’s International Women of Courage Award.stopacidattacks.org
Ritu, another acid attack victim involved in the shoot, was 17 when acid was thrown at her face. She is 19 now and going through treatment. She cannot see with her left eye.