02 March, 2019

Meeting Reshma Qureshi at ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival, 2019

Reshma Qureshi: The Girl on Fire!

I have to admit that even though I hadn’t read Being Reshma when I found out that she would be attending JLF, I was excited and hoped to meet her in person. There were two reasons behind that. 

First, I have been following her story and respected her from what I knew. Second, my friends who had read the book had only good things to say about it.

So, when I saw her arrive at the Press Terrace, Diggi Palace, I gave up all courtesies and approached her. I just wanted to let her know that I admired her. To my surprise, I wasn’t stopped half way by her security and when she noticed me, she returned the smile that I had on my goofy face. Emboldened, I went ahead and shook her hands, told her what I wanted to and excused myself. After all, I did not want to badger her and give her a ‘stalker’ vibe.

This is also the one time my introvert nature came in handy. Instead of interacting with other people, I decided to ‘watch’ Reshma while we waited for our turn to officially interact with her. What I noticed then was later confirmed during our chat with her and Tania Singh, CEO of Make Love Not Scars NGO. Reshma Qureshi still has an air of innocence about her. 

The Power Behind The Fire 

She has endured a lot and has achieved a lot more since then, yet she doesn’t have that feeling of self-importance about her when she is interacting with people. And when she thinks that nobody is watching her, she is just a normal girl who slouches and twiddles her fingers. I found it highly endearing and very refreshing.

When I finally got a chance to sit down with Reshma Qureshi and Tania Singh, my one burning question was what kept her going through it all? The question has been asked and answered, I knew that, but I just had to hear it from her. 

Reshma Qureshi wasn’t ashamed to admit that she had considered committing suicide at the lowest point of her life. But she had support of her parents who kept reminding her that if she did not fight, it may very well happen to another girl. She had the support of Make Love And Not Scars to help realize that she was the victim and had every right to life and live a normal life. Eventually she came to realize that the best punishment for the perpetrators in her case would be for them to see her to live a good life and thrive in every way because that would be just the opposite of what they wanted/expected. 

"Jo logon ne mere saath kiya, yehi soch k kiya ki iski zindagi kharab ho jayegi... iska face kharab ho gaya, sab kuch gaya... yeh ab kya karegi? Ghar mein padhi rahegi, mar jayegi ya suicide karegi. Yehi soch k saath mujh pe attack kiya gaya thha.

Lekin nahi, mai zindagi mein aagey badh k dikhayungi."

An NGO That Supports Acid Attack Victims 

Make Love Not Scars is an Indian nonprofit organisation based in New Delhi. The organisation works with acid-attack survivors and was founded by Ria Sharma. It assists with the complete rehabilitation of acid attack survivors, including providing survivors with financial, legal and educational help

When asked what it feels like to be the face of change through Make Love Not Scars, Reshma said that it was her pleasure to be attached to an NGO that works so hard in helping the victims of acid attack. It is just an added advantage, she adds, that people around the world now knows who she is and that the name Reshma Qureshi stands for something. 

She has had the opportunity to meet and interact with so many people and as her experiences tell her to, she wishes to extend the scope of their work to include any women who need their help. From rape victims to victims of domestic abuse, Reshma said that each of the stories keep her awake at night and she hopes to be able to do more for all of them. 

For her, it is important that we women raise each other up and progress TOGETHER no matter who or what is trying pull us down and apart.

Reshma On Change

There are two changes that Reshma would like to see in our society on a priority basis. 

First, is that she wants women not to accept such violence as the norm. 

Over  decades and millennia, abuse towards women has been desensitized in society. “The thought that ‘this is normal and happens to everyone’ needs to change. Only then will women realize that they are victims and their rights are being violated.”

Second, she would like to see some judicial improvements in tackling such cases. There are not enough lawyers who take on such cases, and even when they do, they juggle a lot of cases. As a result, the perpetrators are out on the streets and free to commit another crime. Reshma hopes that the judicial system will improve and bring justice to the victims in a swift manner so that the same person cannot victimize anyone else.

Reshma As A Beacon of Hope 

Tania Singh, CEO of Make Love Not Scars, adds that it is a huge help to have Reshma Qureshi on-board as the face of the organisation. Not in monetary terms but in terms of the change that they are able to bring and in terms of the lives they are able to touch. 

Reshma, being an extrovert and outspoken personality, has done everything that they could ask of her. From doing interviews to making YouTube videos to walking the ramp to getting her face on covers, Reshma has been out there in the world showing people that acid attack victims need not shy away from the society. She is leading by example to prove it to other victims that it is not them who should run and hide because they have done nothing wrong. 

Having Reshma being the face has inspired a lot of other victims to open up and realize that they could have a normal life too. Her confidence truly inspires others.

The good news is that there are talks of Being Reshma being translated into Hindi, Marathi, and Malayalam. I particularly welcome this news and hope that it will be translated into many more regional languages as I want Reshma’s story to reach every nook and corner of this country to inspire and to bring hope to more and more people and then go global.

On 19th May 2014, a bunch of hooligans, poured acid on a 17-year-old girl. It was like she was on fire… and she was! Only the miscreants hoped for her to turn into ashes. 

Reshma Qureshi did not die. Nor did she give up. Instead she is stronger and not bitter for what she has had to endure. And best of all is that she has retained her innocence and is passionate about fighting for justice - for herself and for thousands of others.

She now burns brighter than ever; She is inspiring people and bringing hope to those who had none… She is spreading that fire!

Take a look at the Books:

On 19 May 2014, as seventeen-year-old Reshma Qureshi left home for the examination centre, wearing her sister’s niqab, everything happened in a flash. The men rushed towards her. Grabbed her. Tugged at her hair. Poured acid on her face. Soon she started to burn like a living corpse. The acid ate through her skin and aimed for her bones, but it could not quell the fire in her heart. It lifted Reshma from tragedy and suffering and propelled her to New York, where she made global headlines by becoming the first acid-attack survivor to walk the ramp at the New York Fashion Week.

Now an international anti-acid-sale activist, vlogger, model, and the face of Make Love Not Scars, Reshma tirelessly works towards empowering other acid-attack survivors like herself and has become a beacon of hope for millions.

Inspiring and life-affirming, Being Reshma is the extraordinary story of a young girl from the slums of Mumbai who overcame insurmountable odds in a world ruled by men and dared to change it.

A Delhi brat studying fashion design at Leeds College of Art decides to devote her final-year project to ‘women’s empowerment'. What begins as a one-off engagement with the lives of acid-attack survivors draws her back to India to shoot a documentary on their lives. Then, an effort to raise funds for one of the survivors catapults Ria Sharma into the corrosive, devastating world of acid attacks.

Today, she runs the award-winning NGO Make Love Not Scars, which works with survivors to raise funds. This is the story of how, over the years, Ria slowly learnt to find her groove as a campaigner and crusader as well as counter death threats, ageism and sexism. Her own story is closely woven with the stories of the many women who have helped her grow from a fickle girl into a woman of substance.

Peppered with humour and bubbling with wisdom, Make Love Not Scars is an unusual coming-of-age tale.

Special Thanks to Jaipur Literature Festival & Teamwork Arts for making this possible. 

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