Six years ago, Rupa, now 22, was the victim of an acid attack at the hands of her own stepmother. The young woman, who has since dropped her last name after disowning her father for supporting her stepmother, has teamed up with the non-profit organization Stop Acid Attacks to fight for justice for herself and other survivors of this heinous crime.
Acid attacks are used as an act of revenge, a way dishonoring individuals who are blamed for creating some kind of familial or social conflict. It is said that 80% of attacks are a response from a man whose marriage proposal had been rejected.
There are over 1,000 acid attacks a year in India, with most of the victims being girls. There are no specific laws against these acid attacks, which keeps these young women in a constant state of fear, and often left on their own to struggle with the emotional, physical and financial effects.
In an effort to bring attention to this growing epidemic, Rupa, along with her friends who are also acid attack survivors, have joined together calling for a ban on the open sale of acid.
A photo shoot arranged by Stop Acid Attacks along with photographer Rahul Saharan, features the young women baring their faces for the very first time. In addition to its activism and extensive fundraising efforts for survivors, the organization also works closely with the women to help them return into society and rebuild their self-esteem.
This shoot was also a way to help Rupa make her childhood dream of becoming a fashion designer come true. The women are all wearing dresses designed and created by Rupa.
“I always wanted to be a designer but after the attack there was a pause in my life. I was so insecure and embarrassed by my scars I used to cover my face with a scarf. I always hung onto my dream but I never knew that one day it would be possible and I would be launching my own label.”
Today, Rupa, who has had trouble getting work, hopes to be able to set up her own boutique to employ other acid attack survivors and become financially independent.
Watch Rupa talk about her attack and desire for independence below.
You can learn more about Rupa and the fundraising campaign to help her gain her independence here.
All photos © Rahul Saharan. Lead photo from left to right: Laxmi, Rita, Rupa.