NEW DELHI – A fashion photo shoot featuring five victims of acid attacks is drawing wide attention in India. While the country keeps no official statistics on acid attacks, there are regular reports in the media of attackers targeting victims to disfigure or blind them, often because of spurned sexual advances.
The 41 photos show 22-year-old Rupa and four friends laughing and striking playful poses while wearing some of her fashion designs.
“I told them to be natural. I didn’t do any makeup or editing. I told them, you look beautiful and you have to be the way you are,” said the photographer, Rahul Saharan, who volunteers with the Stop Acid Attacks charity and is working on a documentary about acid victims. “They are very confident, so it was not too hard for me.”
The photos have been shared widely since being posted Aug. 8 on the Facebook page run by the group, and have also been picked up by TV stations and newspapers.
The joy and confidence the five women display defy the horrific stories they tell.
Rupa’s face was doused with acid when she was 15 years old by a stepmother unwilling to pay her marriage expenses. The wedding was called off. The photo shoot has brought in funding that will enable her dream of opening a boutique to come true.
Laxmi, now 22, was also 15 when she was attacked by her brother’s 32-year-old friend after she refused his marriage proposal. Earlier this year, U.S. first lady Michelle Obama presented her with the International Women of Courage Award for campaigning against such attacks.
Ritu, 22, was attacked by her cousin during a property dispute. Sisters Sonam, 22, and Chanchal, 17, were asleep when acid was poured over them by a group of men who had been harassing them in their village in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.
In all five cases, the girls’ attackers were convicted, though such crimes in India often go unpunished.
Some 1,500 acid attacks are reported worldwide every year, according to the London-based group Acid Survivors Trust International, though it says the actual number is likely higher.
India passed a law last year severely limiting sales of acid, but Stop Acid Attacks said it has since counted at least 200 attacks.