Exclusive – A face is not everything: Acid attack survivor Reshma Qureshi

When 19-year-old Reshma Qureshi walks the ramp at the New York Fashion Week on September 8 this year, it will be a vindication of her belief that an acid attack need not mean her life is over.

Mumbai-based Qureshi was assaulted by her brother-in-law who splashed her face with acid in Allahabad on 19 May, 2014, as she was walking to school with her sister Gulshan. Gulshan and her husband had been estranged, and the acid was actually meant for Gulshan. “I was wearing my sister’s burqa, so they mistook me for her,” Qureshi tells SheThePeople.TV.

Since then, the courageous young woman has not allowed her ravaged face to hold her back. Instead, she has been working with an NGO called Make Love Not Scars to help other victims of acid attacks get on with their lives.

It was Make Love Not Scars that arranged for Qureshi’s assignment at the New York Fashion Week, and the young woman is thrilled to be going abroad for the first time.

“I was completely unaware that anything like this was going to happen,” says Qureshi. “One day Ria (Ria Sharma, founder of Make Love Not Scars) called me and gave me this surprise. She showed me a lot of pictures of New York and the Fashion Week and said that I have to walk there. I am really happy and excited to go there.”

For months after the attack, Qureshi had struggled to cope in a society that puts more value on a woman’s looks than anything else. Back in Mumbai after being released from hospital in Allahabad, she was made even more depressed by relatives and neighbours who told her that her life was over.

“That lowered my courage even further,” says Qureshi who has just finished her exams for standard 8. “The only thing I want to say to society is, don’t say such things to the survivors of acid attacks. Just accept them as they are.”

Qureshi found the strength to carry on after she met Sharma of Make Love Not Scars. “My association with MLNS pushed me to achieve what I have today,” she says. “Nine months after the attack, Ria found me through my brother’s Facebook post and since then I have not looked back. She gave me the strength and courage to live. Today I can say that a face is not everything. We can live a good life if we are good on the inside.”

With MLNS, Qureshi has been campaigning to stop the sales of acid at chemists’ stores and helping other survivors of acid attacks to understand that life can go on.

Among other elements of the campaign, she acted in a number of makeup tutorial videos to show how acid can be purchased as easily as cosmetics. The videos were so creative and Qureshi acted so well that the videos went viral and the Supreme Court banned the sale of acid in shops.

“At first, I was really nervous in front of those big cameras,” says Qureshi. “But I knew it was for a good cause, so I did it. We shot for about 12 hours a day for a couple of days, and now I don’t feel camera shy at all.”