Ria Sharma wasn’t always an activist. Just a few years back she was a fashion student at Leeds College of Art. But she felt uninspired by the work, and decided to branch into film. Her first project: A documentary about acid attack survivors
Acid attack survivors and staff at the Make Love Not Scars Rehabilitation Center grand opening Credit: Avirat Sundra
“While I was shooting the documentary, I found myself in a government hospital burn ward,” says Sharma. “The things I saw in the ward left me forever changed. I had never witnessed so much misery all at once, I had never been surrounded by so much pain. When you are in that situation you have two options, you could either return to the comfort of your own life or you could try and make someone else’s life comfortable.”
The pioneering Delhiite, 23, now dedicates her life to helping acid attack survivors. She founded Make Love Not Scars in 2014 to support victims, who are mostly women. And on March 7, she launched the first-ever rehabilitation center of its kind in India to extend services to survivors of acid attacks.
The groundbreaking New Delhi center supports survivors medically, legally, psychologically and financially. Providing access to yoga, poetry and a range of emotional support, the center is a place Sharma hopes women recovering from attacks will feel comfortable. In addition to providing a safe space for local women to bond as they receive treatment, training and support from professionals, the center is equipped with sleeping quarters for survivors who come from out of town.
Make Love Not Scars also offers vocational training, workshops in what Sharma calls “life coping skills,” legal advice, and mental health services.
Acid attacks are a problem all around the world, but particularly in India. There, an estimated 1,000 acid attacks are reported by women each year, often at the hands of a spurned suitor or disapproving family member. Most women don’t report the incidents, however, and Acid Survivors Trust International says that the actual number is much higher.
“I feel really good about the direction we are heading in,” says Sharma. “I think the existence of such a center is going to be extremely instrumental towards changing the lives and future of acid attack survivors.”
In ten years, Sharma hopes to see no need for the organization that she’s fought so hard to establish. Her dream? By then, survivors will have gained the tools to live productive, independent lives — and acid attacks will have all but disappeared from the cultural sphere.
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