Beauty Vlogger and Acid Attack Survivor Speaks Out:'My Offenders Walk Free While I Have To Go Through Life Without a Face'
Reshma Quereshi, 18, is working with the "Make Love Not Scars" campaign to end the over-the-counter sales of harmful acids in India
Earlier this week Reshma Quereshi made headlines for a series of beauty and makeup vlogs called “Beauty Tips by Reshma,” which aim to raise awareness of acid attacks in India. In 2014 she was left with a severely disfigured face and in need of expensive cosmetic surgery after becoming the victim of one such attack.
“I was only 17 at the time and my offenders are walking free today, while I have to go through life without a face,” Quereshi, of Mumbai, tells PEOPLE.
Quereshi says that she, her sister and their two friends were visiting a town in Northern India last year when her sister’s estranged husband enlisted the help of two men to attack the women.
“[My sister] shouted, ‘Reshma, you run!’ But before I could do anything, his two friends pushed me to the ground, held my hands and poured acid all over my face,” says Quereshi, now 18.
With no aid from the government to cover the costs of her surgery, Quereshi reached out to Make Love Not Scars, an organization that supports acid attack survivors while trying to ultimately end the practice. The group helped her launch a fundraising effort on IndieGoGo to pay for her surgery, and now she’s urging others to protest the over-the-counter sale of harmful acids in India.
In her vlog on YouTube, the teen seems to lightly share beauty secrets while actually calling attention to the serious subject of acid violence.
“See how easy it is to get rid of dark spots?” Reshma says in a video about erasing facial blemishes. “As easy as scarring someone’s face with acid. Just open the bottle and throw.”
Founder of Make Love Not Scars Ria Sharma tells PEOPLE that the idea of an acid attack survivor giving beauty tips “doesn’t sound normal,” so “we felt that this video could change people’s hearts and make them feel that survivors are as normal as they are.”
“We wanted to create a contrast by using a topic as superficial as makeup to address a hard-hitting issue,” she says. “It was also aimed at eradicating the social stigma that plagues victims of crime in India.”
According to an open letter to the Prime Minister of India posted on the group’s website, the “number of acid attacks increased between 2012 and 2014 by an alarming 250” percent. And harmful acids like sulfuric, hydrochloric and nitric are still fairly easy to obtain, despite a 2013 order by India’s Supreme Court to control the over-the-counter sales of the chemicals.
The Wall Street Journal said that India’s Supreme Court prohibited the sale of acids to anyone under 18 and they are “completely prohibited unless the seller maintains a log/register recording the sale of acid.”
But a girl becomes a victim of an acid attack every day, as Quereshi says in the videos. Says Sharma: “We need to end this horrific crime.”
In partnership with The Logical Indian, Sharma’s group has launched a petition called “#EndAcidSale,” which now has more than 68,000 signatures, according to the campaign’s website.
Sharma and Quereshi want the Indian government to end acid sales for good by enforcing the laws in place, and to help survivors of the attacks.
Says Quereshi to her fellow survivors: “Beauty doesn’t lie in physical appearance but in being strong from inside.”