The next time you walk down a busy city street enjoying the sunshine, consider how, for many women in India, this pretty scene could turn violent in seconds.
According to the BBC, more than a thousand women annually are brutally attacked with nitric or sulphuric acid, leaving many blinded, unable to use their hands, and horrifically scarred. In turn, they are often ostracised and can't find work. Additionally, in communities of women that rely on financial support from their husbands, those attacked by acid rarely get married, leaving them in extreme poverty.
In recent years, campaigns like Stop Acid Attacks have been spotlighting these unbelievable crimes in order to rally support for survivors. (You may remember this heartbreaking makeup tutorial created by one survivor.) Now, Delhi-based photographer Niraj Gera is celebrating their bravery — and slamming discrimination against them — in a breathtaking, deeply emotional portrait series, "Sacred Transformations."
Gera, who has surprisingly only been taking professional photos since 2010, specialises in street photography. But when he met directors and members of the Chhanv Foundation, an organisation that creates a safe space for acid attack survivors in 2014, he was seriously moved to help them.
"I wondered how could one be so heartless to be inflicting such inhumane trauma (both physical and mental) on anyone," Gera told POPSUGAR via email. "I had to use my skills as a photographer to bring them out in the mainstream. They needed to be taken seriously, and accepted in the society with the much-required sensitivity."
He added, sensitivity paves the way for tolerance and mutual respect. It also generates courage to speak up for any wrong in society." In hopes of getting his art's viewers to connect with them, he decided to showcase the emotional journey of the survivors.
At first, it wasn't easy to convince these women to pose for the camera. But Gera worked carefully to create a comfortable environment, and the shoots resulted in some emotional moments. "There were times they laughed and danced around with all their energy, whereas there were also days when they could not hold themselves and cried," he shared. "Overall it was a beautiful journey and all of us lived every moment to the fullest." Throughout the project, he found that he was deeply inspired by their bravery and courage. (Once you see these images, you will be too.)
Like all high-quality art, Gera's series makes the viewer think hard about the topic. He wants viewers of "Sacred Transformations" to understand that the survivors are no different from who they are, and that they deserve equal opportunities in life — career stability, a close-knit family, and marriage prospects all come to mind. "Victimising them because of the consequences of somebody else's crime only adds to the injustice which has happened to them," he said.
He's also hopeful that by seeing the results of these violent crimes, people will take a stand against them and refuse to normalise discrimination. "Let's not stand still and ignore such injustices," he declared. "Instead, rise up and take a step (no matter how big or small) towards bringing change."
Read on to see 15 of the empowering images from the 42-part series, which are designed to be viewed in the following order ("from darkness to light . . . from misery to empowerment . . . from negativity to positivity," as Gera said). They are captioned in Gera's own words. Then, learn how you can help acid attack survivors here.