In India, 1,000 acid attacks take place every year.
At an unusual coffee shop in Udaipur, Rajasthan, India, 23-year-old Rani Raul met with actress and photographer Lela Edgar. Edgar was on a three-and-a-half week tour throughout India documenting the many faces and stories of acid attack victims, and Raul fit the project’s description.
Without hesitation, Raul shared with Edgar the brutal account of how acid was thrown at her after she refused to marry a man; how 80% of her body had been burned; how she had spent nine months in the ICU; how she lost five years of her life when she fell into a coma; and how, ultimately, she woke up blind.
Raul’s story, although horrifying, is not unusual. In India, an estimated 1,000 acid attacks take place each year, according to the Acid Survivors Trust International.
And in an effort to address the stigmatizations that surrounds these brutal attacks, Edgar has made it her mission to tell survivors’ stories.
Lela interviewing an acid attack survivor.
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“I wanted to meet and record their stories, learn from the NGOs that were serving them, and learn from the women fighting the good fight at UN Women India,” she told Global Citizen, “and all came true.”
During her early 20s, Edgar was a full-time actress, until a serious artery injury to her neck threw her out of the circulation. That’s when the actress — known for her roles in “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” starring Robert Downey Jr., and “Writer’s Block,” working alongside Bryan Cranston — turned to advocacy work, a lifelong aspiration of hers.
She had learned about acid attacks in 2013 after watching a short video feature from CNN about India’s Red Brigade, a group of young women — many in their early teens — who began taking up self-defense classes and patrolling streets to help ward off sexual assault.
India, Edgar discovered, had been “inordinately affected by gender based violence of all kinds — femicide, dowry deaths, honor killings, child sex trafficking, slave labor, rape and of course, acid attacks.”
“I tried to figure a way that I could dial in,” she added. “What came to mind was my camera.”
Years before, she had come across Kathy Eldon, a “force of nature” and the founder of Creative Visions Foundation, an organization that supports creative activists. Edgar would soon become a sponsee of the foundation, which enabled her to raise funds through crowd-sourcing.
Through two NGOs — Make Love Not Scars and Stop Acid Attacks — she was introduced to 11 remarkable women who ranged from their late teens to late 50s, only two of whom were married, and only one happily so.
Edgar met with Raul and her mother, Kavita, at Sheroes Hangout, a cafe run by acid attack survivors.