Social activist - Ria Sharma
UK degree: BA (Hons) Fashion at Leeds College of Art
Ria is the founder of Make Love Not Scars, an organisation that actively supports survivors of acid attacks and campaigns to raise awareness of the issue.
Tell us about Make Love Not Scars and the people it supports
Make Love Not Scars works to support acid attack survivors in many ways and help them back to normal life.
An acid attack is when a person is attacked by having corrosive acid thrown at them in a way that is meant to cause them serious harm. Acid attacks against women especially have risen in recent years in India. They are particularly committed by men who wish to seek ‘revenge’ against women who refuse their advances or against wives who do not bring enough dowry.
We have ensured that survivors receive free treatment under the Supreme Court order for the welfare of acid victims passed in April 2015. They also receive government compensation and legal aid.
We have sourced lawyers and funded the legal battles of many survivors. We have successfully fundraised to send a survivor to study at Parsons New School for design in New York and funded the education of other survivors in India.
How did you go from doing a degree in Fashion to setting up a human rights organisation?
My tutors helped me find a way to relate my passion for women’s empowerment to my degree
Even though I was studying Fashion, my professors at Leeds College of Art recognised where my passion lay even when I couldn’t see it.
My college made sure I actually worked and excelled in a field that I deeply believed in. My tutors helped me find a way to relate my passion for women’s empowerment to my degree, which is something I never thought I could do.
The college equipped me with the necessary skills. My tutors even encouraged me to spend my last semester in India and made special arrangements for me to attend college via Skype.
This meant I was able to set up Make Love Not Scars in my third year.
Was there anything else that about studying in the UK that shaped your beliefs?
Studying in the UK also broadened my perspective on women’s rights by just observing the standard by which women live.
I could never have discovered my thirst to help people in India while I was in India. The UK provided me with an environment to grow and form my opinions.
What has your organisation achieved?
I believe that we have been successful in spreading a significant amount of awareness about the true effects of acid attacks.
We push to get our survivors justice and have been instrumental in creating benchmarks out of our cases so that future survivors do not have to struggle.
Before Make Love Not Scars existed not a lot of people knew about acid attacks. We have seen a significant change in the way that our community now approaches disfigurement and crimes on women.
We have seen a drastic change in the way that the media, the youth, government and society looks at acid attacks now. Being young myself, I have seen a rise in the number of young volunteers we now get.
Make Love Not Scars has definitely had an impact on the younger generation and their will to help our society and country.
Ria Sharma was the winner of the Alumni Award for Social Impact, India, 2016.