In 2014, 17 year old Reshma Qureshi and her sister were making their way to an exam center in Allahabad when they were attacked by her sister’s hostile husband and two other men. Reshma, being mistaken for her sister, was pinned down and doused in sulfuric acid, leaving her with severe burns to her face and the loss of one of her eyes. After a long and difficult period of recovery, Reshma set out to make the voice of herself and other acid attack survivors heard bv joining an organization called Make Love Not Scars, that helps to empower and support acid attack survivors while fighting to end acid sale in India. Since then, Reshma has taken part in several campaigns to raise awareness on the issue. She was also invited to walk the runway during the infamous New York Fashion Week, opening for the FTL Moda show during September of this year. Reshma now hopes to finish up her education and take on the role of a radio jockey or journalist in order to allow her voice and her story to reach women not only in India, but all over the world.
Although Reshma and several other wonderful women like her are working hard to try and end the perpetration of acid violence, the fight is not over yet. According to Acid Survivors Trust International (ASTI), about 1000 reported acid attacks take place in India alone each year, with many more in addition that go unreported. Despite the Indian supreme court ruling for the regulated sale of acids in 2013, highly concentrated and corrosive hydrochloric, sulfuric, and nitric acids are still easily available for purchase at most corner stores in the form of toilet and drain cleaners for as little as 50 cents a litre. The ruling ordered that the sale of acid be restricted to those who provide proof of age and identity and that all sales records of acids be monitored and forwarded to the police on the regular basis. This ruling expired in October of 2013, and since then, nothing has been done by the government to curb acid attacks. Acid attacks are not even regarded as a distinctive crime and therefore there are no official statistics about them.
So what is there to be done? To put it simply, something needs to change. While age and ID related restrictions are a start, they are simply not enough considering that many of the attacks stem from small towns and rural areas where it is challenging to make sure shopkeepers keep note of the sales. Even in bigger cities like New Delhi and Mumbai, the media has been documenting how easily acid is available to the public. Furthermore, acid is still a large part of many domestic industries in India. Whether it be the dying of clothes, cleaning of toilets, or manufacturing of glass, acid is cheap, versatile, and commonly used. What needs to change is the normalization of the issue.
To the minds of many, if a woman disobeys her partner, goes to work against their will, rejects their marriage proposal, or is even too beautiful, she is to be punished. Acid attacks are the ultimate form of domestic abuse and cannot be entirely controlled by laws and regulations until sensitization around the rights and empowerment of women has been better integrated into the society. If the government doesn’t put into place harsher punishments and court practices against the perpetrators, it will be quite challenging to end this sort of injustice. It is through campaigns, rallies, judicial discussion, and the spreading of awareness that mindsets need to be changed.
Overall, much is to be done surrounding the issue of acid attacks. Despite the continuing attacks, voices like Reshma’s need to be heard. If the numbers of attacks need to start declining, these issues have to be talked about, stricter laws need to be put in place, and better rehabilitation and compensation for the victims have to be provided. No matter the reason, acid violence is never justified.
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