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These 7 Pictures From A Photo-shoot Of Acid Attack Survivors Will Challenge How You Perceive ‘Beauty’!

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By Mayank Jain:

Acid attacks are one of the gravest atrocities that a human being can go through and yet, reports of acid attacks on women around the world are just getting more frequent. While a downward trend is visible in the developing countries due to reach of awareness and education, India is falling lower down the order. 72% of the acid attacks cases involve women and most of the perpetrators are estranged lovers, lurking lechers who make sexual passes and get frustrated at the denial. Their idea of vengeance is an acid attack on the innocent subject of their infatuation and they attempt to scar her for life, physically and emotionally.

Courage, as they say, is bigger than most things we have encountered. Acid attacks survivors are epitome of this iron will to struggle as they make it in a world that holds biases against them for no fault of their own. Young girls face ostracization because of being attacked and the society rejects them because of the superficial standards of ‘beauty’. These survivors not only face social, but economic hardships as well since the attacks almost certainly result in some disfigurement or an impairment in sensory fictions like loss of vision and hence, finding work becomes a task in itself. Those who can and qualify to work are frequently rejected from organizations for not being ‘up to the mark’ in the popular sense of beauty.

Rupa is an acid attack fighter from Uttar Pradesh. Her stepmother tried to kill her after her mother’s demise and poured acid on her. Rupa was sleeping and the shock that her own stepmother did it to her has never left her. She is now living with her uncle but horrors are still fresh in her mind. She went through 7 surgeries and now dreams of starting up a boutique.

She wants to rent a place in a decent locality in Delhi and raise some funds for the premises and buying equipment to start the boutique where other acid attack fighters can also be employed and fend for themselves. She was in need of a photographer and models for her newest designs and that’s where Rahul Saharan stepped in. His photos, all of which feature acid attack survivors as opposed to fashion models, were an instant hit on the social media and since then, Rupa’s dreams have grown a new pair of wings.

We contacted Rahul to know more about his inspiration behind these photos and he shares,

“I have been working with an NGO called Chhanv from 2 years and they told me about the requirement of a photo shoot. I thought we should take the acid attack fighters themselves instead of other women since they define beauty and symbolize being comfortable better than anyone else. I strongly feel that everyone should feel beautiful and no matter what your colour, age, gender is, you are beautiful.”

His message to the world is loud and clear, “I want to send out the message that people should change their perception on beauty and stop defining it within close boundaries. Women aren’t objects to be judged but people to be respected and fighters deserve love, not ostracization.”

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Meanwhile, our Senior Editor, Akhil Kumar has a different perspective to offer on the photo shoot,

“I noticed this photo-shoot as many of my friends on Facebook started liking and sharing it the moment it was posted. It made me uncomfortable right from the moment I had the first look at this album. The photographer says “Every person should feel beautiful, no matter from which region, caste or country. No matter the color of their skin. Keep courage. In spite of barriers, one can always rise. Work hard and be an inspiration for others.” While I understand the basic human craving to find social acceptance and admiration by appearing more desirable, the attempt to exploit that emotion is repulsive to me. Also, even though it might be unintentional, I find the tone of his message a touch patronizing and derogatory. Isn’t this initiative contradicting the basic idea behind the campaign for social acceptance of survivors of acid attacks? While most of us do react to what we find aesthetically pleasing, the idea behind ‘feeling beautiful’ is troublesome.

It’s as if we have established the norms of beauty and if one doesn’t fit into it, they should try ‘feeling’ it. It is also important to make it clear that my criticism isn’t directed at the models, I would really like to hear from them on how they feel about all of this, they seem to be enjoying and having a good time. What purpose does using fashion and photography to make them feel ‘beautiful’ serve? This doesn’t challenge our perceptions of beauty, more importantly, the need for it. Without intending to sound insensitive, I wonder if the subjects of this shoot really accept that they are ‘beautiful’ in the way the term is used.

The intent behind acid attacks is to scar someone, destroy whatever is termed as ‘beautiful’. Then, are we saying that this scar is beautiful? This ‘destruction’ is beautiful? I might be called insensitive, I wish there was some other way to put this across, because honestly, whoever sees it will say “you look beautiful” out of pity or solidarity, not because they actually believe that.

So, either you are forced to agree and comment that yes this is beautiful or you stay silent. Why the need to guilt trip the viewers on ‘liking’ and commenting with not-so-honest feelings and words.Yes, you look happy and seem to be having fun, and that matters but why the need to make the survivors seek validation in the narrow spectrum of ‘beauty’ that the society dictates? I don’t feel societal critique or transformation is really what they are aiming at. ‘sensitive’ is not always theoretically and politically informed. The appropriation of struggles is very problematic. Let’s get something straight – Acid attack deforms the body, and is not ‘beautifying’. We should stop glorifying it.

All of these words reflect my views, and I understand they can turn out to be naive and uninformed as I am yet to interact with any of the survivors myself. This is a knee-jerk reaction as I plan to reflect more on this and understand. This write-up is just to get a conversation started so that even I can learn from your perspectives. I would love to hear from you on how you feel about it.”

To know more about this story and what I think, follow me on Twitter at @mayank1029

You must be to comment.
  1. Prashant Kaushik

    Both opinions have their own weights. I appreciate the attempts.
    But honestly, after going through this article, I am still in a state I cant explain. Perhaps a mix of shock, grief and inspiration.

  2. Khizra

    Comment for the Senior Editor, Akhil Kumar: I understand both view points. But I think the second view point comes from the privilege of being someone who will never know what it feels like to be in that situation. Neither do I actually, but I’ve worked with women in the situation. In a world where we freak out at the sight of a pimple, imagine waking up everyday to scars, and seeing people cringe when they see you. Maybe what you’re saying is correct. But alternately, I think the girls are genuinely enjoying themselves and I didn’t view this shoot as if I was looking at a ‘make a wish’ kid getting his wish. You see three wide smiling girls, genuinely feeling pretty, wearing pretty clothes and possibly excited to see how the shoot looks. It’s a photoshoot, so consent is involved, hence maybe just maybe we should avoid over analyzing this and take it for what it is; a photoshoot that gives three girls, who are made to feel inadequate on a daily basis, feel pretty and pampered for a change.
    Some times you’ve just got to take things for what they appear. If you feel they’re being exploited, what’s the harm that’s coming as a result of it? That one girl’s dream of a boutique might happen through people stepping up?
    And as for the photographer’s write up…maybe it doesn’t appear politically correct in the language and you interpret it a certain way, but after reading your take out from it, I REALLY struggled to find that undertone and couldn’t. At worse, maybe he’s just not good with words.
    Let it go 🙂

  3. Gaurav

    The pictures and the article comes across as just another confirmation of the fact that india and indians do not believe in solving their problems for various reasons and they prefer to take every problem in their stride. somehow taking each blow and not reacting has become the standard policy for all indians and that includes victims. when will india learn that these problems need to be solved, when will india start seeing a person as an individual? when will we educate our children to respect each other and learn to live with a different opinion or choice? till then we can only grin and bear it i suppose.

  4. Arya

    Hi Mayank,

    First of all, it’s a great well-written article. I appreciate that you were bold enough to give a “politically incorrect” opinion on such a topic.

    I guess, the idea behind the campaign is not to glorify acid-attacks, or emotionally blackmail the viewers into “liking” the photos. I feel what we are getting wrong here is the difference between “pretty” and “beautiful”. Being “pretty” is limited to being physically attractive as per social norms. Being “beautiful”, on the other hand, is beyond that. Being beautiful involves being attractive in a wholesome way ie, confident, happy and full of life. And while I do agree that the models may not be physically attractive, I definitely do find them to be very beautiful and attractive in a wholesome way.

    When I “liked” these pictures, I did so not out of guilt trip, but because I genuinely found myself attracted to the way they carried off themselves.

  5. Priya Kamra

    I think the photographer was just trying to help from his side. He posted it for the world to see that even if something like an acid attach happens to you You are still the same person you are beautiful and the world shouldn’t perceive from the way you look. This goes for men also . And this photo shoot is one of a great ways to make acid attack survivors feel confident and special again.

  6. Papiya

    Being within “the superficial standards of ‘beauty ’ ” we cant compliments them and many others as ‘Beautiful’. But my instant reaction after seeing these photos was “excellent!” yes their expression is saying that they are feeling “confident and contented”, there is no sign of inferiority complex in their expression – here is the success of the photographer.
    No, the scar/destruction is not beautiful, these marks are not ‘aesthetically pleasing’ but these are telling the tale of those who are full of life, courage, confidence and inspiration. Here nothing is fake, after dealing with such ugly horrendous attack they stood up to say that life is indeed beautiful and so I found it truly beautiful.

  7. Spandana Cheruvu

    I see that the women in the photo shoot appear very self confident and cheerful which is a beauty in itself and can serve as an inspiration for many of the survivors. “Beauty” is not just about the superficial looks but also about how the person carries himself/herself and how comfortable they are with their appearance. It is well reflected in the photo shoot that the survivors feel more empowered and confident and I even stopped at some of the photographs to take a second look at how “beautiful” the women in the picture appear.

    However, I do agree with Akhil that the photo shoot must not be used as a means to glorify the acid attacks and the photographer must keep in mind all kinds of reactions that will follow the photo shoot.

    1. Spandana Cheruvu

      Because……………..Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

  8. Gina

    I feel that the photos are a way for these women to regain power that was taken from them. Their attackers tried to make them feel afraid, ruin them for anyone else and feel ashamed. These women are saying that they will not allow their attackers to control them. Their attackers lose! The women win by saying, “I will not be ashamed because of what my attacker did. I was a victim. My attacker should feel ashamed.”

  9. Cici

    I think what the author was feeling, and something she very nearly articulated, is that a lot of the horror behind acid attacks is because beauty is the only value society gives women. When a woman’s conventional beauty is taken away in an acid attack, she not only suffers for physical reasons but she is ostracized and unable to get a job *solely because of her looks*. This is horrific, the idea that women have no value other than beauty, and that is the angle we need to take when fighting how society treats these women. They are SO much more than their appearance.

  10. how can you be offended?

    They are most definitely not “glorifying” acid attacks. They’re not saying they are beautiful BECAUSE OF the acid attack but IN SPITE of… They are saying that just because they dont fit into society’s definition of beautiful, doesent mean they should hide their scars or be ashamed. That they will go on living and enjoying life. And using acid attack survivors to model the clothes is supposed to pass that message on to other survivors.

  11. anjali

    brave girlsss

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