Indian fashion brand Viva N Diva have chosen acid attack survivor Laxmi Agarwal to be the face of their new designer collection. The aptly named collection ‘Face of Courage’ is a range of women’s clothing designed to go alongside their respective campaign, which aims to change people’s outlook on fashion and beauty.
At just 15 years old Laxmi had acid thrown in her face by a 32 year old man, after rejecting his offer of marriage. Speaking about her memory of the attack, Laxmi said “It felt cold first. Then I felt an intense burning. Then the liquid melted my skin”. She has since become one of India’s most outspoken activists, campaigning against the unregulated sale of acid in the country. In addition, Laxmi has also been promoting harsher punishments for perpetrators of acid attacks, stating that current punishments simply isn’t enough to help prevent these attacks from happening.
Speaking of Viva N Diva’s campaign to the BBC, Laxmi has said “This opportunity to represent an apparel brand was a platform for me to set an example for women like me to be confident and have courage despite their physical appearances. This was also a platform for me to send a clear message to criminals that women will not lose courage even after they are attacked with acid to destroy their physical beauty”.
India currently doesn’t have any law which prosecutes acid attackers, despite this being a regular occurrence. An estimate released by the Acid Survivors Trust International states that there could be up to 1,000 acid attacks each year in India alone, and with most going unreported, attackers are left unpunished.
Despite this, Laxmi has already begun to improve the country’s policy on selling over-the-counter acid. The Indian beauty started a petition in 2013 to regulate how acid was sold, with the Supreme Court of India soon acting upon this petition, making over-the-counter acid harder to obtain. Viva N Diva, for which Laxmi was already modelling for, said they chose her not only for her activism on the regulation of acid purchase, but also for their desire to promote beauty beyond physical appearance.
Rupesh Jhawar, co-founder of Viva N Diva, told the BBC the idea for the campaign after he saw a calendar featuring acid attack survivors. He said: “To my eyes that are used to seeing fashion models with flawless skins dolled up in front of the cameras every day, this view was both disturbing and inspiring. For a moment I had seen beauty in a very different way and we wanted to capture it – remove any speck of being a victim from those eyes and give them a stage, an employment, a platform, a medium to flaunt it with style.”
Laxmi agrees that there needs to be wider and more open conversations about the issue, saying “The problem is not just in being a victim but also your victimisation by the society. We are treated as if we are good for nothing and as if our lives are a waste”.