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Book Review: ‘Being Reshma: The Extraordinary Story of an Acid-Attack Survivor who Took the World by Storm’ by Reshma Qureshi with Tania Singh

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New Delhi | Published: January 13, 2019 1:48:27 AM

How acid attack survivor Reshma turned a life-altering event into a movement for change

A book on acid attack survivor Reshma Qureshi, starts with her as a young girl

Being Reshma, a book on acid attack survivor Reshma Qureshi, starts with her as a young girl and then goes on to chronicle her humble beginnings on the second floor of a two-storey chawl in East Chembur in Mumbai. Reshma, the youngest in her family, grew up with her brothers and sisters in a conservative household. When her family couldn’t afford to live in Mumbai anymore, she along with her Ammi and sisters went to live in their ancestral home in Allahabad, and this is where the event, which would forever change Reshma’s life, took place. While going out for an examination in May 2014, 17-year-old Reshma got acid thrown on her face by her sister Gulshan’s former husband Jamaluddin. It was a classic act of revenge. Jamaluddin had kidnapped his son Saufi and wouldn’t let Gulshan or her family, who had filed a complaint with the police about it, near him.

While her sister’s arm got burned as well, it was Reshma who suffered the most damage. Her entire face was burned and when she was taken to hospital, she was shunned by the authorities there. The police, too, were indifferent to her plight initially. But despite so many hurdles, she didn’t succumb. Instead, she went on to make global headlines by becoming the first acid attack survivor to walk the runway at the New York Fashion Week in 2016. Throughout her journey, Reshma not only had the emotional support of her family, but also of two other strong women—Ria Sharma, founder of Make Love Not Scars (an NGO that helps in the rehabilitation of acid attack survivors), and Tania Singh, its CEO.

It was Sharma who helped Reshma regain her confidence by leading her to Dr Jain who performed multiple surgeries on her and also ensured that she got a chance to feature in Ogilvy & Mather’s pro bono campaign for Make Love Not Scars. Singh provided support to Reshma by accompanying her to Lebanon to be on a TV show that focused on human rights success stories from across the world.
When you reach the end of the book, you realise that the point of this autobiography is not only to narrate a tale of perseverance and courage, but also to highlight the fact that acid attack survivors in India are often shamed. In a society obsessed with conventional ideas of beauty, acid attack survivors are looked down upon. They receive hostile stares, rude comments and are blamed for their plight. What is even worse is that their scars come in the way of them living normal lives.

In 2015, Reshma participated in a campaign called #endacidsale, appearing in three videos giving beauty tips. One such video, ‘How to Get Perfect Red Lips’, has her saying, “You will find a red lipstick easily in the market, just like concentrated acid. This is how, every day, a girl becomes a victim of an acid attack.” Reshma asserts that as long as acid attack survivors are discriminated, she will continue to narrate her story to raise awareness.

Acid attacks are not uncommon in India. They are often referred to as crimes of passion. Bollywood actor Kangana Ranaut’s elder sister Rangoli, too, has been a victim of such a crime in which she lost one ear, 97% vision in one of her eyes and ended up with a dysfunctional breast—she had to undergo 57 surgeries. Another case is that of Laxmi Agarwal, a campaigner with Stop Acid Attacks (a campaign that aims to bring the masses together and fight against acid attacks against women in India), who had a man twice her age throw a beer bottle filled with acid on her face for rejecting his advances.

Being Reshma goes beyond the literal scars and talks about the psychological scars that female victims have to endure thanks to the rigid mentality of the people around them. In the end, Being Reshma isn’t only an account of an acid attack survivor’s harrowing road to recovery, it is also about the fight against any and all kinds of oppression.

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