Scarface: Shirish Shete's photo documentary on Acid Survivors will give you goosebumps

PTI Photographer, Shirish Shete, documented the acid attack survivors, spreading awareness about these victims and the need for a policy change to help social inclusivity for such women.

  • Scarface: Shirish Shete's photo documentary on Acid Survivors will give you goosebumps
  • Scarface: Shirish Shete's photo documentary on Acid Survivors will give you goosebumps

When you look at an acid attack victim, your heart reaches out to them. Listening to their stories, their scars scream out to you. Just by the look at the horror these women have endured, you can tell how unjust some factions of the society have been to them, carrying an indifferent attitude and doing little about the punishment ought to be given to the culprits. 

Taking a walkthrough of the Press Club, scarred faces of these victims in frozen frames are bound to draw your attention to Shirish Shete’s photo documentary titled ‘Scarface’. As a veteran media photographer, associated with the Press Trust of India for over two decades, Shirish has been dedicatedly shooting acid survivors for over half a decade.

Shedding light on the reason why he was inclined to document these victims, he said,

It began in Delhi when I met the survivors. I got so entwined in their lives and started documenting it. The whole idea of the exhibition is to spread more awareness about these acid attack victims. I don’t think the society is anything close to accepting them. Talking of social inclusion - they should have a job, can get married, have kids and start leading a normal life. But it is very difficult for them. We need stricter laws. The culprits should be given a capital punishment as this is worse than a rape. At least a rape victim can mentally get over it eventually. An acid attack victim has to live with it for their entire life.

Present at the exhibition were philanthropist Dr. Aneel Kashi Murarka, who graced the occasion with a group of acid attack survivors, supported by his organisation Ample Mission, and Megha Patil,  Ex Vice Chairperson of Mahila Arthik Vikas Mahamandal, Govt. of Maharashtra, Ex Member of State & Central Govt. Committee on Equal Remuneration For Women & Governing Council Member of Maharashtra United Nations Association. 

India has recorded the maximum number of acid attack cases in the world. The degree to which women in our country are unsafe has always been appalling, with crimes such as these increasing exponentially. Acid attack victims are usually between 14 and 35 years of age, and have to live the rest of their life scarred and in isolation. 

Megha Patil spoke about the importance of such events and the plight of these victims, saying, "Awareness is very important. There is one thing learning about the acid attack victims and reading about them, but when you look at these photographs, you realise that their right to life has been taken away from them. You feel that the perpetrators deserve a death sentence but Section 324 of IPC says that if there are minor or peripheral burns in a small incident, then the sentence is only of three years and if it is more than that, it’s 10 years. There is no inclusion of the intent of the man who has done it included in that severity clause. And they are also bailable offences."

"The restructuring of their bodies and face takes several years and where is the money going to come from? NGOs are anyway living off donations. The Government has to take action against this. There are plenty of laws but nothing has been implemented. Acid sale must be stopped. Moreover, the crime against women is generally taken very lightly by the politicians. Even the police is so insensitive to these crimes.”

Dr. Aneel Murarka shared the same view mentioning, “Unless they are talked about, no one will even know about them. There  are some 300 cases recorded every year but the actual figures never come out. There are nearly a thousand such cases. They are looking for a distinguished society where they can have a livelihood for themselves. The sympathy amongst the masses is very short lived for these victims. The idea is to nag them time and again with the fact that these women deserve a better life.”

Zakira Sheikh, an acid attack survivor at the event, shared her story of how she had been attacked by her own husband because she asked for a divorce. With a commendable spirit and daunting courage, she said, “I was in depression and wanted to take poison after the incident but I have grown past it. There were people who used to judge me for uploading my pictures on social media but that gave me more confidence. Even though my face has been ruined, I am still the same human being inside. I do not need a social validation from someone else to live my life on my own terms.” 

Zakira was supported by an NGO started by another acid attack survivor named Daulat Bi Khan. Through her organisation, Acid Survivors Sahas Foundation, she has been supporting other victims like her. She said, “No one can understand the pain of a victim more than another victim herself. Events such as these can help us gain more acceptance in the society, where we are treated with much social negligence."

A chill ran down my spine to listen to the stories of these women. Only a moment of hatred could take away their lives from them for just saying the word ‘No’, which is hard for people in support of patriarchy to comprehend. It’s time we raise a generation more conscious towards these issues and sons who grow up to be better individuals. Let’s acknowledge the preferences of a woman and let these victims live a life they deserve.   

It's time there needs to be a strict law in place providing capital punishment to the perpetrators. However, besides the need for a change at the policy level, we the women need to take a stand for these victims, supporting and accepting them as normal individuals. Right from including them in a workplace to taking a stand for them when need be, it is important to realise that we can't expect the society to be conscious towards them unless we are strong and assertive ourselves. 

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