I had heard of Reshma Qureshi and her book Being Reshma in the month preceding the Jaipur Literature Festival 2019. A few friends had posted about the book, and on searching further, had seen some updates about the woman behind the book as well. It was DDS who wanted to meet Reshma when we came to know she would be at JLF2019. To be honest, I didn’t know what we would ask her. But when we got the chance to talk with her, it was a different experience.
When she arrived while we were waiting at the Press Terrace, DDS approached her, talked with her, shook her hand and withdrew. After all, we would interact with her a bit later. As DDS puts it, Reshma Qureshi still has an air of innocence about her. It was something she mentioned to me as we waited for that interaction.
When we finally sat down with Reshma and Tania Singh (CEO of Make Love Not Scars), the first question we asked her was about her inspiration during the most difficult phases of her life.
Reshma Qureshi wasn’t ashamed to admit that she had considered committing suicide at the lowest point of her life. But she had support of her parents who kept reminding her that if she did not fight, it may very well happen to another girl. She had the support of Make Love And Not Scars to help realize that she was the victim and had every right to life and live a normal life. Eventually she came to realize that the best punishment for the perpetrators in her case would be for them to see her to live a good life and thrive in every way because that would be just the opposite of what they wanted/expected.
“Jo logon ne mere saath kiya, yehi soch k kiya ki iski zindagi kharab ho jayegi… iska face kharab ho gaya, sab kuch gaya… yeh ab kya karegi? Ghar mein padhi rahegi, mar jayegi ya suicide karegi. Yehi soch k saath mujh pe attack kiya gaya thha. Lekin nahi, mai zindagi mein aagey badh k dikhayungi.”
We then asked her about one change in the country, be it legal, regulatory or customs/traditions, that she feels needs to be our foremost priority.
First, she wants women not to accept such violence as the norm. Over decades and millennia, abuse towards women has been desensitized in society. “The thought that ‘this is normal and happens to everyone’ needs to change. Only then will women realize that they are victims and their rights are being violated.”
Second, she would like to see some judicial improvements in tackling such cases. There are not enough lawyers who take on such cases, and even when they do, they juggle a lot of cases. As a result, the perpetrators are out on the streets and free to commit another crime. Reshma hopes that the judicial system will improve and bring justice to the victims in a swift manner so that the same person cannot victimize anyone else.
Make Love Not Scars is an Indian nonprofit organisation based in New Delhi which works with acid-attack. It assists with the complete rehabilitation of acid attack survivors, including providing survivors with financial, legal and educational help. We asked Reshma what it feels like to be the face of change through Make Love Not Scars.
She said that it was her pleasure to be attached to an NGO that works so hard in helping the victims of acid attack. It is just an added advantage, she adds, that people around the world now knows who she is and that the name Reshma Qureshi stands for something. She has had the opportunity to meet and interact with so many people and as her experiences tell her to, she wishes to extend the scope of their work to include any women who need their help. From rape victims to victims of domestic abuse, Reshma said that each of the stories keeps her awake at night and she hopes to be able to do more for all of them. For her, it is important that we women raise each other up and progress TOGETHER no matter who or what is trying pull us down and apart.
Tania Singh, CEO of Make Love Not Scars, added that it is a huge help to have Reshma Qureshi on-board as the face of the organisation. Not in monetary terms but in terms of the change that they are able to bring and in terms of the lives they are able to touch. Reshma, being an extrovert and outspoken personality, has done everything that they could ask of her. From doing interviews to making YouTube videos to walking the ramp to getting her face on covers, Reshma has been out there in the world showing people that acid attack victims need not shy away from the society. She is leading by example to prove it to other victims that it is not them who should run and hide because they have done nothing wrong.
It is important that Reshma’s story of courage reaches every corner of the country. For that to happen, it is important that the memoir be translated into regional languages as well. When asked if this was on the cards, we are told that there are talks of the book being translated into Hindi, Marathi, and Malayalam. That’s a start, and one that is promising.
In 2014, when hooligans poured acid on the then 17 year-old Reshma, they hoped to break her spirit. But they failed. Reshma did not die. Instead, she rose stronger from that and now fights the battle for justice, not just for herself but also for others.
Thank you JLF and Teamwork Arts for the opportunity to meet her and interact with her.