Ria Sharma gives each of her nervous girls some words of encouragement as she knows deep down they’re more than excited.
Coming in front of the public is hard for any acid attack survivor but walking a catwalk for a charitable fashion event for Make Love Not Scars is something else, but nevertheless, they all intend to have fun and enjoy an opportunity to be pampered.
‘They’re so excited,’ Ria said, the president and founder of the charity, Make love not Scars. ‘Some of these girls have never been accepted this way, never been pampered, and never come together just to have some girlie fun. Yes, they’re nervous about being looked at but only because of the way people have treated them in the past. The rehearsal has already made them feel more confident.’
Ria and Tania Singh, the vice president of Make Love Not Scars, decided to hold a fashion show to give their ‘girls’ a good time.
‘The idea for PowerWalk was to give the girls something to build their confidence,’ Ria said. ‘If they can overcome something so daunting as walking down a catwalk in front of loads of people, they can overcome anything.’
If they can overcome something so daunting as walking down a catwalk in front of loads of people, they can overcome anything
Nine acid attack survivors dressed in outfits donated by around 20 designers from India. And each dress will be auctioned to raise funds for the campaign against acid attacks.
Reshma Bano Qureshi, 20, was one of the nine girls, and who was also invited to star in New York Fashion week last year, just two years after she was attacked by her brother-in-law as he tried to attack his wife and Reshma’s sister.
‘I enjoyed my experience on the catwalk so much last year,’ she said. ‘It’s great that the other girls can experience it now too. We’ll have a great night.’
After the event the nine girls and Ria and Tania will carry on partying into the night and will each have a room at the hosting hotel, The Lalit Hotel, in New Delhi, after they’ve danced the night away at their basement nightclub.
Ria added: ‘The Lalit has been amazing. Within hours of emailing them they replied with a venue confirmation, food and drinks, and they even offered to give each girl a room for the night.
‘They got so excited when they saw how nice their rooms were. They’d never seen such a bed. We’re all going to have a fabulous evening.’
We’re all going to have a fabulous evening
Ria first came across acid attack victims in India after she filmed a documentary while studying at Leeds College of Arts.
She said: ‘While I was studying fashion at the Leeds College of Arts, I came across a picture of an acid attack survivor and it really moved me. I went and spoke to my professor about it. As I was due to give my final major project, my professor suggested that I should go back to India and shoot a documentary on the subject.’
But while filming her documentary she came to learn there was a major lack of awareness of acid attacks and a serious lack of concrete help on the ground. So she decided to take the name of my film, Make Love Not Scars, and turn it into a fully fledged organization. For three years now she has helped many young women rehabilitate by building their confidence and reintegrating them into society.
Keshav Suri, son and executive director of the Lalit Group of Hotels family, and known as India’s version of Paris Hilton, is passionate about supporting minority groups in India and was quick to host the Make Love Not Scars fashion show.
‘A friend of mine introduced me to Ria this summer,’ he said. ‘I’ve been championing the LGBT community for many years and I like to help marginalizedcommunities. There are so many other marginalized communities in India and across the world and I did some research, and something happened, I started to think what have I done? What can the corporate sector do to help? I realized that I needed to do something before I started telling politicians and so forth to do something.
‘This community needs skilling. I want to hire them and I will employ them wherever, and in whatever role they’re comfortable with. I will help.
‘If I can do something in my privileged life, and I consider myself very privileged, why not? And I want to tell other company owners (in India) to stop complaining that there are not enough skilled people, start skilling the marginalized communities and you’ll have loyal workers for life.’