By Josh Saunders
Brave acid attack survivors bear their scars in a powerful photoshoot showing the ‘sacred transformation’ from devastation to happiness.
Photographer Niraj Gera, 40, from New Delhi, India, displayed the heart wrenching stories through a series of 36 photographs at an exhibition earlier this month.
He met the acid attack survivors at a protest three-years-ago and was so moved by their journeys he campaigned to change their lives through a photo series.
Named ‘Sacred Transformations’ the images show the survivors powerful battle from devastation, and a lack of self-confidence, to empowerment and happiness.
Niraj features the stories of 11 Indian women who have suffered acid attacks.
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.
Niraj said: “The series is an attempt to reflect on this transformation of the survivors, and at the same time to sensitise the society towards them.
“They deserve much more than stigmatisation and shunning. They deserve love, acceptance and embracement just as we all do.
“The series 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.
“This is not to say that they never have any low moments in their life or that they never fall weak but what is praiseworthy is how they defy and overcome those moments.
“The kind of positive approach I carry in life was taken to another level on meeting such incredible people.
“It is important that in times of crisis, big or small, one should remember and believe that there is always a ray of hope.
“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.
While Rupali was attacked by a stranger for her growing popularity in regional cinemas.
Niraj said: “The unfair stories of these brave hearts and many more, not only scream out loud in this series but also show a different, never before heard story of their lives and emotions.
“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.
“These are more than just visual graphics, each photograph is like my baby, I have nurtured each photograph in the womb of my mind for a long time.
“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, who 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.
Niraj said: “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 realized that when you are happy, the world becomes a beautiful place.”
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.
Niraj said: “Such crimes despite the amendment of 2013 have only arisen, and seriously needs to be checked. It has to be stopped.
“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
He added: “I hope people will extend their support by taking a stand against such attacks by changing their mindset of ‘kuch nahi kar sakte’ or ‘kyun padna inn sab cheezo me’.
“By teaching each other that they too can stop such attacks by not fearing away and letting this happen, because this could happen to any one of us.
“Let the change begin from you. Let’s love and teach our children to love every being with all humility and equality.”
To see more of his work, visit here.