Mumbai: Cheating FIR against NGO founder for duping acid attack victims of lakhs
A month after this paper's report on how Make Love Not Scars allegedly used acid attack victims to make money, the police file FIR
Lalitaben Bansi did not receive any of the money collected in her name
A month after several acid attack victims opened up to mid-day and exposed how they had been cheated by the NGO Make Love Not Scars, the Mumbai Police have finally booked the founder. This paper had revealed how the NGO had collected donations under the pretext of helping the victims, but kept all or most of the money. After the report, the organisation pledged to give the victims their money.
Daulat Bi Khan, the complainant
On Saturday, the Bandra police registered an FIR against the founder of Make Love Not Scars (MLNS), Ria Sharma, under sections 406 (criminal breach of trust) and 420 (cheating) of the IPC. The move came after the victims met the commissioner of police.
"Ria Sharma uses photos and stories of acid attack victims and publishes them on her NGO's website to raise donations internationally, but the victims doesn't get any money," alleged the complainant, Daulat Bi Khan, who runs the NGO, Acid Survivors Saahas Foundation.
Ria Sharma, founder of Make Love Not Scars
'Never gave the money'
mid-day broke the story on November 27, highlighting how the Delhi-based NGO had collected Rs 10.8 lakh for acid attack survivor Zakira Shaikh but didn't hand over the money to her. What's more, they had uploaded her pictures online without asking for her or her family's permission.
On November 29, Daulat Bi Khan and several other victims came forward with similar allegations. One of these victims is Lalitaben Bansi, for whom MLNS had raised R1.1 lakh. As with the other victims, Bansi did not receive this money.
"Bansi told me that in 2014, when she was undergoing treatment at Bombay Hospital, Sharma told her that her NGO could raise funds for her surgery. Trusting Sharma, Bansi narrated her entire ordeal. Sharma took her photograph and told her that the money would be raised soon. A few days later, Sharma said they had raised Rs 1.1 lakh, which would soon be transferred to her. But Sharma never gave the money. When Bansi called her again, she pretended to not recognise her," Khan told the police.
"Like Bansi, photos of me and other survivors - Reshma Shaikh, Saira Bano Irfan, Arati Kishore Thakur, Shabbo Shaikh and Siddharth Sasane - were misused. After we explained our ordeal to Commissioner of Police Datta Padsalgikar, he took cognisance of the matter, and within a few days, our FIR was registered," she added.
'Stop toying with us'
Bansi, 25, was attacked in 2012 by her 15-year-old cousin, who flung acid on her after a petty argument. She suffered nearly 80 per cent burns.
She told mid-day, "People like Sharma play with the emotions of acid attack victims. She used my photographs and stories on her website. She even posted photos of my marriage, as if she, and not my friends, had done all those things for me."
Earlier, Sharma had told mid-day that while they had raised Rs 1.1 lakh for Bansi, the money was still with the crowdfunding platform Indiegogo. This corroborated Bansi's claims that the money never reached her.
The other side
Ria Sharma, founder of the NGO Make Love Not Scars, claimed that she was being framed. "We generally don't give money directly to victims, as in the past, family members have misused the donation money. We directly send the money to the hospital. But we lost faith in the doctor and, so, didn't send the money. That money is not with me, it is with the fundraiser. I am innocent and have all the evidence to back it up," she said.
On allegations of misusing victims' photos on the NGO's website, Sharma said she had never met those victims. "I am being intimidated by the complainant, Daulat Bi Khan. She even threatened me. I only help people, and don't even take salary for my work."
Rs 1.1 lakh
Amount the NGO owes Lalita Bansi