Girl Disfigured by Acid Attack Inspires Others With Her Courage at New York Fashion Week

By Li Yen, Epoch Times
April 30, 2019 Updated: May 6, 2019

WARNING: ARTICLE CONTAINS GRAPHIC CONTENT THAT SOME MAY FIND DISTURBING.

A beautiful young woman, Reshma Bano Qureshi, from Mumbai, India, was left badly disfigured after saving her sister from a vengeful acid attack by her husband. Badly scarred, Reshma has had to rediscover new confidence and inner strength. Now, she has gone on to help uplift and inspire women who have suffered the same plight around the world.

Reshma was left depressed, and was contemplating suicide, after suffering a devastating acid attack by her brother-in-law on May 19, 2014. The attack left the then-17-year-old’s face badly scarred, and she was blinded in one eye.

This photograph was taken on Oct. 10, 2014, and it shows Indian acid attack survivor Reshma look at a photograph of herself before the attack in her home at a slum in the eastern suburbs of Mumbai. (© Getty Images | INDRANIL MUKHERJEE)

On that fateful day, Reshma was on her way to take an exam, walking with her sister. Reshma’s sister had just left her husband after suffering from abuse and torture.

Suddenly, her sister’s husband approached them … and Reshma would suffer life-changing injuries while trying to protect her sister.

©Getty Images | INDRANIL MUKHERJEE

“My brother-in-law was angry that she had taken their son,” explained Reshma. “To take revenge, he came to attack her with acid but before he could, I jumped for her rescue. I did not know he was carrying a corrosive substance. The next thing I knew was that my skin was scalding and I could barely see anything.”

“My sister too had suffered burn injuries on her hand but my face was completely burnt.”

For hours, the two sisters suffered in agony by the roadside, while nobody called for an ambulance. Eventually, they found someone to call their parents, and the sisters were taken to the police station, and then to the hospital.

“Some people came but no one took us to hospital as it was a police case and needed a proper complaint,” she said.

“After pleading for some hours, somebody called our parents who later took us to [a] police station and then to a government-run hospital,” Reshma further added.

GRAPHIC CONTENT (©Getty Images | INDRANIL MUKHERJEE)

Reshma endured five facial skin-graft surgeries over the course of the next nine months and explained how she had lost the will to live and had been contemplating suicide. Her father, Zahir Ahmed, a then-58-year-old taxi driver, had borrowed money from relatives in order to pay for the surgeries, but could afford no further treatment.

“Treatment was also expensive and I could see my parents struggling for money. I used to tell them that I do not need surgeries and that I should end my life,” Reshma said.

“I had no will to live. The pain was unbearable, the smell was worse. I had to keep my face covered all the time so no one can see me… And then came the day when I first saw my first post-surgery,” Reshma continued.

“I fell unconscious. I was a beautiful girl but now all I saw in the mirror was scalded face with one missing eye. I failed to understand why it happened to me.”

“I stopped talking to everyone and drifted into depression. There were times when I used to cry.”

Reshma’s bleak outlook began to turn around, however, after she met Ria Sharma, the CEO and founder of Make Love Not Scars, a non-government organization dedicated to ending the uncontrolled sale of acidic substances—the kind Reshma’s brother-in-law had used—in India and elsewhere.

Ria also helped Reshma to fund her surgeries and start on a rehabilitation program. Eventually, she regained her confidence and found a new perspective on life—that beauty comes from within. Reshma worked with Make Love Not Scars on several ad campaigns to stop the sale of disfiguring acids and shine a light on women who have suffered a similar plight. She said that she is proud to be able to stand up for women who have been suffering alone.

“I am hoping my participation will give them a confidence that they do not need to hide behind the veils,” she said.

Acid attack survivor Reshma Bano, of India, before she walks the runway during a rehearsal for the FTL Moda presentation at New York Fashion Week in New York. (©Getty Images | TREVOR COLLENS)

It was Reshma’s “changed persona” that eventually caught the attention of Ilaria Niccolini, producer of FTL MODA, New York Fashion Week. Reshma was to walk the ramp as a part of the fashion show to shed light on the devastating effects of acid attacks.

“This season I wanted to have Reshma because the plague of abuse of acid to attack women, so largely adopted in India and Pakistan, is devastating,” Niccolini said.

Acid attack survivor Reshma Bano, of India, walks the runway during the FTL Moda presentation at New York Fashion Week in New York. (©Getty Images | TREVOR COLLENS)

Reshma described her feelings about the show: “I am both ecstatic and nervous. I had never in my wildest dreams thought of going abroad let alone walking at a major fashion show. I am yet to sink in the feeling,” she said. “I do not know about the brand. I do not know what I am going to wear or how I will walk. I am not prepared for all that.”

“I am just happy to have been invited for a big event like this and show the world that beauty lies in the soul and not in looks.”

“Before I went there I was saddened with the thought of how I look, but I realized later the importance of having walked on the ramp. I realized that my this [sic] act will inspire numerous other girls, who’re going through the same stigma as I did,” she said, according to Scoop Whoop.

September 8, 2016, was the day the then-19-year-old, Reshma, strutted down the runway triumphantly during the FTL Moda show at New York Fashion Week.

“I feel really good and the experience was great,” she told AFP after the show. “I feel as though it has definitely changed my life.”

Indian acid attack survivor and model Reshma Qureshi presents a creation by designer Archana Kocharat during a fashion show organized by the “Make Love Not Scars” NGO in New Delhi on Nov. 25, 2017. (©Getty Images | DOMINIQUE FAGET)

Years ago, Reshma chose not to hide her face and bravely moved forward with her life.

“I remember that I had overcome depression post my attack because I had found comfort in the stories and incredible strength of the other survivors,” she said, The National reported.

Today, the 22-year-old Reshma continues to stand tall.

In December 2018, she released a book titled Being Reshma: The Extraordinary Story of an Acid Attack Survivor Who Took the World by Storm, where she explains her heart-wrenching life.

According to co-author Tania Singh, this book is the first autobiography in South East Asia written by a survivor of gender-based crimes.

Without a shadow of a doubt, Reshma’s story of resilience and courage has inspired people across the globe. She is a beacon of hope to other women suffering the same fate.

“You did nothing wrong. You’re beautiful and you have a fighting spirit. Now go and show the world just what you’re made of,” Reshma said in a message to other acid attack victims.

And here’s Reshma’s message to all women of the world: “It’s not about the face. It’s about what’s in your heart,” she said.

Indeed, Reshma is truly an inspiration to all of us.

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