Walking the runway at New York Fashion Week is not something 19-year-old Reshma Bano ever thought she would have the opportunity to do.
Particularly not after the Indian teen’s face was disfigured by a revenge acid attack, allegedly perpetrated by her brother-in-law. Bano lost her left eye and her skin was severely disfigured, even after nine months of skin graft surgery. She has never left India, but will travel to New York in September to help raise awareness about what has happened to her and hundreds of others in India.
“I am just happy to have been invited for a big event like this and show the world that beauty lies in the soul and not in looks,” Bano told the Daily Mail. “I am both ecstatic and nervous. I had never in my wildest dreams thought of going abroad let alone walking at a major fashion show. I am yet to sink in the feeling.”
Bano, who does beauty tutorials on YouTube to raise awareness about the dangers of acid attacks, doesn’t yet know what fashion label she’ll sport on the runway.
Acid attacks are most common in Southeast Asia, a form of retaliation meant to disfigure and shame a woman. Causes vary, but many incidents spur from perceived rejection of a man by a woman. According to the Stop Acid Attacks campaign, family and business disagreements are also increasingly the reason for an attack.
While now illegal in India and punishable with a minimum of 10 years and up to life in prison, acid attacks have been on the rise in recent years. Exact figures are hard to come by, as many incidents go unreported.
Bano works with Make Love Not Scars, an Indian nonprofit, to advocate for tougher purchasing laws for acid, which can be easily obtained and used for such attacks. The group works to empower survivors of gender-based violence by connecting them to one another and support services like financial support and legal assistance.
Bano was walking with her sister in May 2014 when they were approached by her sister’s estranged husband. According to Bano, the man was upset her sister had taken their son. Bano stepped in to protect her sister, taking the full force of acid in her face.
“The next thing I knew was that my skin was scalding and I could barely see anything,” Bano said.
She said she hadn’t realized what her sister’s husband had been carrying. Bano’s sister was burned on her hands, but the two women were left on the street for hours before someone called their parents and they were taken for medical care.
During her grueling recovery, Bano said she lost her will to live and contemplated suicide because she was so depressed and in so much pain.
“I fell unconscious,” Bano said of the first time she saw her face after a reconstruction surgery. “I was a beautiful girl but now all I saw in the mirror was scalded face with one missing eye. I failed to understand why it happened to me.”
Her appearance at New York Fashion Week is sponsored by FTL Moda, which is campaigning to increase diversity in fashion.
“This season I wanted to have Reshma because the plague of abuse of acid to attack women, so largely adopted in India and Pakistan, is devastating,” FTL Moda founder Ilaria Niccolini said.