Indian acid attack survivor walks the runway at New York Fashion Week

The teenager was attacked by four men using industrial strength acid 

Andrew Buncombe
New York
Thursday 08 September 2016 20:09 BST
Woman with acid thrown in her face walks New York Fashion Week catwalk

Reshma Qureshi suspected the translucent liquid in the plastic bottle was probably acid, yet she believed the best way to protect herself and her sister was to wrestle it from the four men.

As it was, the men held and attacked her, pouring the acid on her arms and back and her face. It ate away the flesh on her left cheek and destroyed her eye. In the aftermath she felt suicidal, and for a year she could think of nothing else.

This week, the 19-year-old flew from India to the US where she walked the ramp at New York Fashion Week, determined to show her quiet defiance as a survivor, and to promote the #TakeBeautyBack campaign.

Ms Qureshi said she wants to finish school and then go to college (Andrew Buncombe)
Ms Qureshi said she wants to finish school and then go to college (Andrew Buncombe) (A)

“This is my first time in New York and I’m very excited,” she told The Independent, the evening before her appearance. “I think it’s important that people hear the story about the survivors of acid attacks and to know they can lead normal lives.”

Acid attacks are commonplace across large parts of the Indian subcontinent and in some South Asian communities in other countries. Frequently, the women are attacked by people they know - relatives who believed they have “dishonoured” the family for some reason or other, or else a man whose advances have been knocked back.

Ms Qureshi, who is from Mumbai, was attacked in May 2014 by her sister’s estranged husband and his friends while traveling to the city of Allahabad in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. She was taken to a local hospital and received the most basic treatment; back in Mumbai she was told there was nothing that could be done to save her eye.

In recent years, campaigners have been demanding action against such attacks, demanding governments in countries such as India better regulate the sale of acid, which is used to clean machinery, and better educating the public about the horror of such incidents.

Ms Qureshi joined the fight against acid attacks a year after she was assaulted. She joined the India-based Make Love Not Scars, a nonprofit organisation that, through its powerful images of acid attack survivors, gives a voice to those who have been assaulted.

She took part in a video posted to YouTube in which she showed watchers how to get perfect red lips. In the video she explained that it is as easy for someone to buy acid as it is to buy a lip stick. The video has been watched by hundreds of thousands of people.

When she was told she had been invited to take her message to New York Fashion Week, Ms Qureshi said she had been thrilled. She said that just because someone’s face had been destroyed, they could could still carry within them inner beauty and soul. “That is all that should matter,” she said.

The teenager was selected to participate in fashion production house FTL Moda’s #TakeBeautyBack campaign, in collaboration with the Global Disability Inclusion.

The clothes she got to wear were designed by Indian designer, Archana Kochhar, whose outfits are frequently worn by Bollywood stars such as Amrita Rao, Nargis Fakhri and Bipasha Basu.

Speaking from Mumbai, Ms Kochhar said she was delighted that Ms Qureshi was taking part. “I think that beauty should be intrinsic.”

The clothes were the work of Indian designer Archana Kochhar (Andrew Buncombe )
The clothes were the work of Indian designer Archana Kochhar (Andrew Buncombe ) (Andrew Buncombe)

On Thursday morning, Ms Qureshi sat patiently as a crowd of cameras followed her every step backstage in Manhattan. She was filmed as the dress was fitted, she was filmed as her make-up was done by Chika Chan and her hair was piled to perfection by stylist Aubrey Loots.

Asked if she thought the models around her looked too thin and could do with a decent serving of Indian food, she agreed.

And then it was time for her to walk her way down the ramp.

Ms Qureshi was the first to emerge, her dress, hair and make-up looking perfect. She beamed and smiled, and the crowd of fashion industry professionals and journalists cheered.

(The last of the models to walk the ramp was Sunny Leone, an Indian Canadian model best known for her former roles as an adult actress who is now trying to make it in Bollywood.)

Afterwards, Ms Qureshi retreated to the dressing room area and watched the action and madness going on beneath her. She looked just a little overwhelmed.

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