Nine Indian women, victims of acid attacks, stepped out into the spotlight during a haute couture fashion show to bring awareness to a rising criminal trend.
With the purpose of inspiring other acid survivors with renewed self-esteem and confidence, the social organization, "Make Love Not Scars," arranged for the nine women to model gowns donated by some of India’s top designers which were later auctioned off to raise funds for victims.
The PowerWalk fashion show enlisted the help and talent of 20 clothing designers and was held in New Delhi.
"The idea for PowerWalk was to give the girls something to build their confidence. If they can overcome something so daunting as walking down a catwalk in front of loads of people, they can overcome anything," said founder Ria Sharma.
"I was very nervous. People often looked away when I went outside. They would walk in the opposite direction when they saw me. I faced a lot of problems," said model Meena Khatoon who was attacked by her ex-husband.
"But then one day I thought, if that's the way you think, so be it. I have to build my life, I want my son to study and I have to support him,” Khatoon said.
Sharma first came across a photo of an acid attack survivor when studying fashion in Leeds, England, saying it really moved her. Encouraged by her professor, she returned home to India to shoot a documentary on the topic to bring awareness to acid attacks. She named it "Make Love Not Scars,” which then transformed into a charity to assist with reintegrating victims into society.
"I was scared it would happen again. I was bothered by how people reacted to me on the streets. People would look away,” said Reshma Bano Qureshi, who was attacked by her brother-in-law who mistook her for his wife.
"People would say, what happened to you? They would say, no one will marry you. They'd say, with a deformed face you're not beautiful. But I'm proud and confident of who I am. I want people to know the face is not what makes you beautiful, it is your heart,” said Qureshi who was featured in New York Fashion Week.
Although hundreds of attacks are reported annually, the true figure is believed to be in the thousands, Tania Singh, vice president of Make Love Not Scars said. Many times local governments withhold the actual attack figures and women will die from their injuries before a criminal case is initiated, while others choose to remain with their abusive family members.