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Mainstream, VOL 62 No 3 January 20, 2024

An extraordinary memoir of an acid attack survivor | Joydip Ghosal

Friday 19 January 2024



Being Reshma
Reshma Qureshi with Tania Singh

Pan Macmillan India

248 pages


Being Reshma, The Extraordinary Story of an Acid-Attack Survivor Who Took the World by Storm by Reshma Qureshi is haunting and tragic. She and Tania Singh penned the memoir. This book is not only an exposition on acid attack or her craving for justice. It is more than that.

Tania Singh is the CEO of Make Love Not Scars. Throughout the book her empathy for Reshma was evident. That teenage girl Reshma faced horrific acid attack. Not only that she also survived it. John Swinney rightly said that in doing so she became global beacon of hope. She showed her remarkable grit and determination. She transformed her grief coupled with gloom and despair into a movement ushering change. She emerged from the abyss of despondency. So this memoir is not only inspiring but also life-affirming. B Krithika rightly said that this agonising direct narrative gives the readers a feeling of listening to Reshma narrate her story. According to Sashi Tharoor this crisp yet emotionally grounded narrative not only connects the reader to Reshma but also brings to the fore the savage reality of acid attack.

In 2013 BBC reported that India witnessed thousands acid attacks a year. Based on field research Make Love Not Scars the non – profit organisation believed that the actual cases were much higher. The researchers were of the opinion that even Sweden reported a larger percentage of crime against women. In this book the author wrote in no uncertain terms that the rate of reported crime was more often a manifestation of several issues and factors. Socio-economic conditions, law enforcing agencies’ inclination to register the report , victims’ eagerness to complain must be taken into consideration.

She was born in Mumbai. She had two sisters Gulshan and Nargis and two brothers Riyaz and Aizaz. Her mother was diagnosed with fatal disease. But they as a family kept up their spirit and fought against all adversities. She was cynosure of their eyes. Her brother-in-law Jamaluddin who married her sister Gulshan and his family took recourse to repressive measures to subdue Gulshan and to foist their own wishes upon her. They kidnapped her child. At the end Reshma had to bear the brunt.Her brother-in-law and his cousin brutally attacked her with acid which disfigured her face and to make the matter worst her entire being also got shattered. Rushing at her the men tugged her hair and poured acid on her face. Actually they targeted her sister. She had to endure excruciating pain and trauma that wrecked havoc upon her life. Her agony increased manifold when she faced bureaucratic tangles and apathy. Medical negligence also complicated the matter. In piercing detail she described the traumatic events .Of course her family remained the worst sufferer. But the attack could not douse the fire in her heart. She rose from suffering and tragedy. She became the first acid attack survivor to walk the runway at the New York Fashion Week.

Through the book we come to know the difficulties these types of campaign #endacidsales faced. People got shuddered at the sight of acid attack survivors and many social media sites removed these types of photographs. Someone would report the content as graphic and they removed that. This created hindrance to these campaigns . “ What if the reach was diminished?”. The image of acid – attack survivors should never be treated as violation of social media guidelines. On the contrary posts related to victims and survivors had been dubbed as flouting community guidelines. These were categorised as being too graphic. The author asked pertinent question to the objectors. She asked why they felt they could object to the way they looked.
She felt surprised that how they could demand the content to be removed from social media sites. The faces were their reality. It was not their choice. In unequivocal terms she expressed that these people were perpetrators of a system that compelled them to cover their scars implying that such survivors should live with the injustice while their attackers went scot-free. The survivors could not change their stories or their faces. She tried to empower other victims and became a beacon of aspiration and hope for other acid attack survivors. MBC Network invited Tania and Reshma to Lebanon to be on a television show Kalaam Nawaem. It was a female hosted talk show in Arab world that focused on human rights stories.

Acid attack survivors live in a culture of victim blaming. The author writes that many never leave home because of hostile comments, stares directed at them. Only a handful of them find a job. Reshma asks the television journalists to look within and realise how counterproductive they have been to her cause. “Rather than accepting me for who I am, they have reinforced that I have a face I should be hiding… Rather than standing up for inclusivity , they make us believe we should be ashamed of coming out in public.”

Reshma dared to change the society beset with insurmountable odds and after reading the book we must agree with Sachin Tendulkar that there is much to learn from her personal life. The words of Indrani Bose echo with us that this book is not only an account of harrowing road to recovery, it is also the about the fight against any kind of oppression.

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