Three Indian acid-attack survivors confront the violence committed against them by writing letters to their attackers.
In India, 23-year-old Laxmi, an acid-attack survivor and co-founder of Stop Acid Attacks, initiates the Black Rose Campaign to encourage survivors to write letters to their attackers as a process of healing. As she begins to write her letter, she confronts a fear that has haunted her for the nine years since her attack.
A week before the two year anniversary of 19-year-old Ritu’s acid attack, she struggles to write her letter. Ritu is plagued by agonising memories, painful scars, a fear of the colour red, and persistent feelings of wanting revenge.
Meanwhile, Ritu’s friend Roopa would rather forget the past. She does not want to write a letter. But she is inspired to help Ritu through this difficult week. Secretly, Roopa buys red material and starts sewing a surprise gift.
Stop Acid Attacks in New Delhi is the only support and rehabilitation centre for acid-attack survivors in India. Black Roses and Red Dresses is an intimate story of healing that follows three young women who support each other creatively through a time of tragedy and loss.
Life after an acid attack is not easy. Some survivors say that if they could, they would refuse to live their own lives, or become invisible instead. Courage, in the face of such acute suffering, sometimes seems a bleak, lofty idea.
After an acid attack, survivors say you must start life anew. For Ritu, it started with a new neck and lips. She has had five surgeries and is waiting on at least five more.
But none of these surgeries will bring back the left eye she lost in the attack. Her body is a project of endless reconstructions – every bit ruthless, as if there is no human life at the receiving end of it.
Over many years, the physical pain might coalesce into a memory and hurt just a little. But beyond this, the cloak of isolation clings to survivors. Laxmi remembers how all her friends parted ways leaving her in isolation for eight years, while Roopa’s aunt – whose house she relocated to after her attack, – only looked at her face when she offered her food, and Ritu’s teammates from volleyball accused her of bringing dishonour upon the playground.
Judgement often comes easily: “You must have provoked your attacker,” many have asked them in slanting ways – in police stations, courts, homes and markets. Others have urged them to accept this as their fate and move on.
The Indian Home Ministry estimates that every three days, one woman in the country is targeted by a brutal, inhuman acid attack. Acid, readily available in stores across the country, is used as a domestic cleaner, often to clear clogged drains. There is little surprise that it tears through everything it encounters.
And yet, living with Ritu, Roopa and Laxmi brought home the idea of courage for me – in its most forceful way.
At barely 20, each one of them has lived in isolation for a long time. Roopa used to cover her face, even inside her own house. In the long, dark days when invisibility seemed their sole refuge, speaking about their stories called for a strength only a few can muster. Because in telling our stories, we own them. These three young girls chose courage; to emerge in the open, and tell us their story.
It takes courage to try and write to the person who snatched away your life, even if in an attempt to heal yourself; to walk out on the streets, in marketplaces and bus stops which once turned into ghost towns for you; to persist with life after acid has melted it away, to believe and hope that it will be better from this point on; to speak up with the belief that the day will come when such violence will not be inflicted upon other women.
It is our collective shame that some of us chose to inflict acid violence upon one another. That said, I believe these three young acid-attack survivors have led the way for us – in acceptance, support and love for those targeted by such blatant violence.
Black Roses and Red Dresse s draws inspiration from the sheer humanity, bravery and selflessness of Ritu, Roopa and Laxmi. Through the course of the film, the heart-warming sense of community that they knit for each other is theirs to discover, and ours to salute and support.