Ria Sharma was just 21 years old when she set up her NGO Make Love Not Scars in 2014. Over the years, her NGO, which works to raise funds for acid attack survivors in India, has helped rehabilitate many survivors medically, legally, financially, psychologically, as well as educationally. And this despite her facing death threats, financial difficulties, etc.
Sharma’s book, Make Love Not Scars, chronicles this journey, giving readers a glimpse of the various challenges faced not just by the activist, but the survivors as well. What’s unique about the book, though, is the fact that Sharma never denies her privilege—in the first chapter, A Life of Privilege, she lets readers in on her life and childhood. But the most interesting part of the book is where one gets to read about the acid attack survivors. Take, for instance, Haseena who was blinded in an acid attack, but went on to enroll herself in a blind school and learnt how to operate the computer. Today, she is a pro at it.
Then there is Monica Singh, an acid attack survivor who went on to study at Parsons School of Design in New York with the help of Sharma who raised funds for her education—Singh even appeared on the front page of a national daily.
An important revelation that the book brings forth, however, is that acid attack is not always a gender-based violence. In the chapter, A Stolen Childhood, Sharma narrates the account of a two-year-old baby boy, Akash Raj, who was found in a dumpster by his mother with a “non-existent face”. The baby was attacked by the village goons whose advances the mother had rejected.
The reader also comes across several turning points in the book like acid attack survivor Reshma Qureshi’s ramp walk practise before the New York Fashion Week. Qureshi, one of the survivors rehabilitated by Sharma, has gone from strength to strength over the years.
There are also many anecdotes that Sharma—who was part of Forbes’ ‘30 under 30’ Asia list in 2018—shares in the book. In the chapter, Entitled Millennials, she recalls how a 16-year-old intern at her NGO broke down in a flood of tears overcome by the sad tales of the survivors. She was, ironically, consoled by the survivors themselves.
The overarching message, however, is the need to create empathy in people towards acid attack survivors. Sharma requests readers repeatedly to let go of the victim-blaming mentality, and instead support and embrace survivors, giving them a fair chance to pick up their lives. At the end, Make Love Not Scars is essentially about the indomitable spirit of Sharma and acid attack survivors in India who continue to strive for acceptance despite many challenges.