[Photo Source: Facebook/Make Love Not Scars]

South Asia is a part of the world that offers breathtaking landscapes, vibrant cultural activity and intellectual contributions to society. The region is also home to natural preserves such as the Sundarbans Forest and Cox’s Bazaar, the world’s longest beach located in Bangladesh. The Taj Mahal, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, is located in Agra, India. The Bollywood film industry is among the largest entertainment industry’s in the world, and the number of Indians who are taking over multi-billion dollar corporations is on the rise—including an Indian woman who took on the role of CEO of PepsiCo in 2006.

Despite these achievements, the region is notorious for committing a particularly gruesome act against women that is often kept hushed; an act in which the rates of occurrences have been steadily rising. It is only in recent years that forms of action have been taken against the horrific acid-throwing epidemic against women in South Asia.

For years, women of all ages have been victims of this brand of violence. According to sources, the substances used as acid are easily acquired in any market in the area at a low cost. Men who commit this act often do so as a negative reaction to rebuffs: those who were scorned by women who they attempted to pursue, or were intimidated by a woman’s level of education, for example.

The pain that these victims endure is not limited to the act itself—it carries on for the rest of their lives. Bright young women who were on the brink of promising futures become disfigured; many lose their vision and hearing, are no longer able to use their nostrils, and experience restricted esophagus, as well as aesthetic damage. Moreover, tremendous damage is inflicted upon their mental state as well.

In 2014, a new initiative was launched to combat the stigmas that follow the lives of acid victims, as well as offer these women the chance to share their stories and spread awareness of the prevalence of such atrocities.

Make Love, Not Scars is a Delhi, India-based organization that was founded by Ria Sharma in 2014. It was designed to enable survivors to showcase the progress they have made and empower them to rise above their battle on their own terms.

The campaign’s websites profiles several acid attack victims. The organizers have no qualms about sharing these stories in its most brutally honest form, and offer details of the backstory leading to the attacks as well as the aftermath.

One story that stands out on the site, is about a man who goes by Atif. Though most scenarios usually involve men attacking women, Atif is a survivor of the reverse. He is described as a “cheerful and handsome young man” who was deceived by a woman whom he had relations with. The woman, who kept her real age and marital status a secret while attempting to engage Atif in marriage, conspired with her family to attack Atif while he worked in his family-owned business.

Atif’s story ends on a note that exemplifies the harsh realities of life after these attacks. Many other stories are presented in a similar fashion, declining a sugarcoated picture in favor of allowing readers insight into the kind of progress that survivors lead.

The campaign is one of the few of its kind that exists to give a voice to survivors and demonstrates the courage and resilience that survivors sustain in spite of their new lives. Knowledge is power—therefore, one of the most important ways individuals can fight the prevalence of these attacks is to become aware of its severity and the struggles of survivors. Supporting initiatives like Make Love Not Scars is a simple step that can make a difference.