Reshma Qureshi’s body was doused in concentrated acid in a revenge attack. The now activist is helping other acid attack survivors define their own fate.
I thought I would die when I was attacked with concentrated acid at the age of 17, by my brother-in-law.
It was an act of revenge against my sister, who refused to rekindle her relationship with her abusive husband.
It took hours before I was given proper medical care. Hospitals and police in India are extremely bureaucratic and in cases of crime related injuries, the victim is supposed to file a report called First Information Report (FIR) before seeking medical care. Hospitals refused to admit me until I got a copy of a First Information Report from police.
Since the hospital refused to admit me without an FIR, my mother rushed me to the police station, where I was subjected to severe victim blaming and forced to answer questions like, “what had I done to have been attacked with acid?”
I started throwing up from the pain my body was in. A junior officer put a stop to the madness and shouted to his superiors that I needed urgent medical care. I struggled through my recovery, lost an eye, and sunk into severe depression – surviving three failed suicide attempts.
At a time when I believed humanity ceased to exist, it was human kindness that saved me.
When I was unable to get proper medical care at a hospital in Mumbai, a kind local politician who had never seen me in person dropped everything to come and put pressure on the hospital to admit me into a private ward. I was made aware of the power of human kindness. He gave me a lot more than a hospital bed, he gave my family support that they truly needed.
My brothers, sisters and parents were shattered; their faces stricken with grief over what had happened to me. My father, a poor taxi driver, had no money and was struggling to make ends meet for my medical care. My brother reached out to Ria Sharma, the founder of a non-profit called Make Love Not Scars. Ria jumped on a flight from Delhi to Mumbai and raised funds for all my medical procedures. She was my warrior when I was too tired to fight and helped me overcome severe depression. Her words still ring true: “He attacked you with acid, thinking that he would ruin your life. I want you to be more successful than your wildest dreams, because you should not allow him to have victory over your fate.”
A few months after meeting Ria, she asked me if I wanted to become a voice for other acid attack survivors. She threw me a rope while I was drowning, and I grabbed it. Someone had stood up for me, and I wanted to be there to help someone else.
I became the face of the #EndAcidSale for Make Love Not Scars where I shot a series of beauty vlogs called Beauty Tips by Reshma with messages like, “It is harder to find the right shade of red lipstick than it is to find concentrated acid.” Overnight, the videos received over 2 million views and 350,000+ signatures on a petition addressed to the Prime Minister of India, demanding an end to over-the-counter sale of acid.
My journey as an activist was just beginning, and I suddenly realised how much people cared. A few months later, I was invited to walk the New York Fashion Week to spread awareness on acid attacks and redefine what beauty meant on a global scale. I made it to the New York Times, Times of India, Huffington Post; my voice echoed in every corner of the world.
I didn’t know if I could make more of an impact until the CEO of Make Love Not Scars, Tania Singh, called me asked if I still wanted to make a difference. Tania offered to write my memoir for me. I don’t speak or write English, but, I was interested. I did not know of anyone who would put in years of hard work for my story. She did. We co-wrote my memoir, titled ‘Being Reshma’.
People, influencers, journalists spread the word and now, acid attacks are no longer just a statistic, but a harsh reminder of the lives it has consumed. This gives me hope.
Yet, it is also a gentle reminder of how far we have to go when it comes to helping people be more empathetic towards those who have been at the receiving end of this terrible crime. Our stories are coming out, loud and proud, and our group of supporters is ever growing. My life has been impacted by a series of kind acts from strangers who are haunted by an event in my past, and I too, wish to be a beacon of hope for those who may not know how to seek it.
For crisis or suicide prevention support, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14 (24 hours / 7 days) or chat online to a crisis supporter at lifeline.org.au (7 – midnight, 7 days).