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

Posted on August 12, 2014 in Human Rights, Society, Specials, Taboos, Women Empowerment

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.”









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