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Q&A with Make Love Not Scars

Make Love Not Scars was officially registered as a charity in India in December 2014. They work to prevent, help, and end the acid attacks that frequently take place in India, most commonly against women as an act of revenge.

Q: What is the acid attack problem in India? 

A: India is a massive country that faces numerous challenges as a result of years of exploitation, increasingly large population and unimaginable poverty. In India, most people can not afford proper cleaning agents to clean their bathrooms, metal ware, sinks etc. Hence, acid is sold as a cleaning agent in India because it is an extremely cheap alternative to the products sold at supermarkets. Over time, criminals have began to realize that acid attacks are an easy and cheap crime to commit. In India, weapons like guns are not common - and hence, acid is used as a weapon. It leaves no traces of evidence behind since it is sold everywhere, and unlike a weapon like a gun or a knife, acid can not be recovered to trace evidence.

Apart from that, over 80% of the attacks are taking place against women. They are treated as second class citizens and are judged on the basis of their looks and honor - rather than their skills and talents. Hence, by attacking a women, an attacker believes he is stripping her off her identity. Because of her scarred face, people no longer consider her 'honorable' because of the rampant victim blaming. Questions such as what did she do to deserve such a crime become common and the woman is subjected to further societal abuse. Most attackers are their own husbands, fathers, brothers and scorned lovers - people who believe that the woman has dishonored them. By ruining her face, they believe they will ruin her future. It is one of the biggest forms of revenge.  

Q: When did the founders realize something needed to be done?

A: Make Love Not Scars is the product of a documentary. The founder of the organisation, Ria Sharma, was studying Fashion at the Leeds College of Art. One day, she came across a photograph of an acid attack survivor and the photo haunted her for days. She continued to speak about the epidemic and a professor of hers, Suzy Mason, realized that Ria would be haunted by this forever, unless if she could do something about it. Suzy gave Ria a camera and told her to fly back to her home country of India and shoot a documentary on acid attacks. Ria began shooting this documentary and soon realized that more help was needed on the ground. Just then, she decided to not go back for her degree, shelved the documentary and started a full-fledged organisation instead. While the documentary would help raise awareness in the long run, Ria knew that immediate help was needed on the ground which is when she set up the organisation. 

Q: How can one's life be impacted by an acid attack?

A: Acid attacks are terrible crimes. Acid burns through metal, so one can not even imagine the damage it can do to skin and bones. Acid corrodes through layers of skin and causes scars that can never be removed, no matter how advanced the medical care is. People often lose organs such as eyes and ears. Many lose fingers, toes and more. Body parts can have to be amputated and movement becomes constrained when body parts begin to fuse together - such as the chin and the neck. Apart from the physical damage and loss of limbs and functions, people face psychological trauma for life. Many face rampant discrimination in society. They are shunned by family members, and are unable to lead normal lives. Apart from that, they face massive identity crisis and always hope that they could look the way they did - a hope that can never be realized in practicality. It is a painful attack and the effects last forever. Many survivors can not bear to look in mirrors, many commit suicide and some unfortunately, pass away as a result of their injuries.  

“Awareness is the first step to change,”
— Tania SIngh, Representative for Make Love Not Scars

Q: How can one's life be changed after an acid attack by Make Love Not Scars?

A: Make Love Not Scars aims to help acid attack survivors rebuild their lives. We campaign and advocate for the end of over-the-counter sale of acid. Apart from that, we fund their medical care and psychological care post the attack. We run a rehabilitation center for survivors at our headquarters in New Delhi. Here, survivors can come and meet one another, find hope through the journey of other survivors and undertake vocational and skill training. We pay for their education, help them find jobs and convince them of the fact that life may be different, but not necessarily sad and motivate them to move towards their dreams. 

Q: What does rehabilitation looks like?

A: We firstly focus on medical rehabilitation. The minute we come across a case, we tend to focus on ensuring that all life saving medical care is taken care of. Once the person is out of imminent danger, we then proceed to discuss options for cosmetic surgeries and raise funds for that. Soon after, the survivor often suffers through depression. We then help them meet our other survivors who are now leading normal and beautiful lives and this strong network of survivors helps the survivor overcome her or his depression. We fund psychological care and once the person is open to moving forward, we discuss options for educational, vocational and skill training.

Q: What are your two campaigns?

A: The first campaign we ran was called #EndAcidSale campaign. It was a series of beauty videos by an acid attack survivor, Reshma Qureshi. Reshma gave beauty tutorials with powerful calls to action such as "It's harder to find the right shade of lipstick than it is to find concentrated acid." The key was to convince people to sign a petition addressed to the Prime Minister of India, demanding an end to the over the counter sale of acid. We received over 350,000+ signatures and the Supreme Court of India directed all states to implement the ban on the over the counter sale of acid. However, implementation is slow and acid is still available. 

The second campaign we ran was #SkillsNotScars. Acid attack survivors in India face discrimination in the workplace and many people don't hire survivors because of social stigma. They believe that customer-facing roles would be inappropriate or that the survivor may have psychological trauma and be unable to perform their job. We believe that survivors should be based on their skills and not their scars and released video CV's highlighting the wide plethora of talents held by survivors and tried to convince people to hire acid attack survivors. 

All answers provided by Tania Singh of Make Love Not Scars. Learn more about the organization and how to help the cause here.

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