Acid attack survivors bare their scars
While incidents of acid attacks have been reported in nearly all parts of the world, they're most common in South Asia and India.
And photographer Niraj Gera, is one man who wants to share the stories of some of New Delhi's female victims.
The artist has created a series of 36 photographs which display the heartbreaking stages these women go though; from initial shock, to devastation and despair, and eventually empowerment and finding happiness again.
Niraj met 11 acid attack survivors at a protest three years ago. He was quickly moved by their journeys and was inspired to change and document their lives through a photo series. which he named 'Sacred Transformations'.
Sadly, in India the abhorrent crime has one of the world's highest records and lowest conviction rates.
One survivor Laxmi, who is the face of campaign 'Stop Acid Attacks', was burned at the age of 15 after rejecting the sexual advances of 32-year-old man.
"The series is an attempt to reflect on this transformation of the survivors, and at the same time to sensitise the society towards them," Niraj said.
"They deserve much more than stigmatisation and shunning. They deserve love, acceptance and embracement just as we all do."
The series, he explains "is a journey from darkness to light, from ignorance to knowledge, from negativity to positivity and from misery to empowerment."
"It tries to convey that life is not a bed of roses, if there are bad times, there are good times too. Every photograph carries a story in them."
While he is the man behind the camera, Niraj states that he found himself being very inspired by the women he worked with. "The kind of positive approach I carry in life was taken to another level on meeting such incredible people," says the photographer.
"It is important that in times of crisis, big or small, one should remember and believe that there is always a ray of hope," he continues.
"When you have a positive approach and the willingness to strengthen your inner self, when there is love and acceptance from your surroundings. And when you refuse to give up on life, that is where 'Sacred Transformation' happens."
The series aims to document the journey an acid attack survivor goes through, from their initial plight to the heroic re-emergence where they find beauty and happiness in life again.
Other survivors include bride Geeta and her daughter Neetu, who had acid poured on them by her husband. Meanwhile Rupali was attacked by a stranger for her growing popularity in regional cinemas.
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"I spent a lot of time with them discussing their stories, their emotional journey, their lows and highs of life, we cried together, we laughed together and eventually ended up forming a familial bond," said Niraj.
"The exhibition is an attempt to bring about awareness about the deathly trauma they go through, to make the society more sensitive towards this issue and the survivors."
Niraj has taken inspiration from Sri Sri Ravi Shankar ji, a global humanitarian and spiritual leader, whom is trying to help the survivors through spirituality work.
His happiness program called Art of Living, teaches through meditation and motivational sessions to help them overcome fear and self-doubt.
"It has helped them become far more composed and at peace with themselves and the world around them, making them happier and confident. For they have realised that when you are happy, the world becomes a beautiful place," Niraj said.
In 2013, an amendment to Indian law introduced acid attacks as a specific crime punishable by imprisonment set at a minimum ten years up to life and a fine.
"Such crimes despite the amendment of 2013 have only arisen, and seriously needs to be checked. It has to be stopped," Niraj said.
"Acid is so easily available at such cheap rates that it has become a deadly weapon of destruction. I strongly condemn such evil."
"No reason can ever justify such a heinous crime and no amount of guilt can ever undo the wrong."
Niraj has received awards for his works and an honourable mention for his series during The International Photographer of the Year 2016
"Let the change begin from you. Let's love and teach our children to love every being with all humility and equality," he added.
Amen, Niraj. Amen.
- With additional reporting from Caters News.
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