mid-day exclusive Zakira Shaikh is not the only acid attack victim who feels exploited by the NGO Make Love Not Scars. After mid-day’s report on the matter, yet another victim has come forward with allegations that the NGO used his patient’s picture and story to raise funds without consent. What’s more, neither the patient nor the hospital got a single penny from the money raised by the NGO.
Five years ago, Lalita Benbansi, 25, suffered nearly 80 per cent burns after her 15-year-old cousin threw acid on her after a petty argument. The Asangaon resident’s father supported the entire family on a salary of Rs 3,000, and the family could not afford to pay for treatment. At the time, Dr Ashok Gupta had provided full treatment to her free of charge at Bombay Hospital. This included 65 reconstructive surgeries.
However, Dr Gupta says he was surprised when he came across a crowdfunding campaign by Make Love Not Scars, claiming to raise funds for Lalita’s treatment. Neither he nor Lalita had been informed about this, nor had they received the $1,718 (approximately Rs 1.1 lakh) collected by the NGO.
‘Didn’t get any money’
“Ria Sharma’s NGO, Make Love Not Scars, did not give a single rupee to the hospital that provided quality treatment to the victim free of cost. It is their regular practice to collect money in the name of acid attack victims and not to transfer the full amount to the hospital carrying out the treatment,” said Dr Gupta.
After multiple surgeries, Lalita’s face was reconstructed and she got back on her feet. She is now happily married. She told mid-day, “I was not aware that money was raised in my name. I did not get any money. People should not play with the emotions of victims.”
Investigate the NGO
The matter is currently being investigated by the Byculla police, after Zakira’s family submitted a written complaint to them. Dr Gupta, who is a Padmashri awardee, said he is ready to provide details of Lalita’s case to the cops as well, demanding that the culprits be booked.
In June, Dr Gupta had also written to the charity commissioner in New Delhi, seeking his intervention in the matter. He wrote: “While surfing the Internet, I came across the NGO Make Love Not Scars, claiming to have collected a huge sum of money in US dollars towards the treatment of these patients. I was surprised to read the names of two patients who were treated by me at Bombay Hospital, for whom the NGO had raised $9,000 and $1,500.”
He suggested that there should be strict monitoring of such donations under the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA). Dr Gupta also wrote to Vijaya Rahatkar, chairperson of the state women’s rights commission on the matter.
‘Dr Gupta is credit-hungry’
Ria Sharma, founder of Make Love Not Scars, rubbished the allegations levelled by Dr Ashok Gupta, saying he is hungry for credit. She said, “Dr Gupta had told me that he was looking for financial aid for Lalita. He sent me her details and photographs, which were later used to raise money through crowdfunding. I have email evidence to show Dr Gupta is lying. That money is still with Indiegogo (the crowdfunding platform) and we have not used it for our own purpose.”
Asked why the funds were not transferred to Lalita, Sharma said, “A few things went wrong between me and Dr Gupta; he did not take my phone call, and hence, the money was never transferred.” Sharma added, “Dr Gupta is a credit-hungry person. He is targeting me for no reason.”
Sharma hit back at Dr Gupta, stating that he has withheld funds they raised for another victim, Reshma Qureshi. Qureshi told mid-day, “Dr Gupta is not polite with his patients and he has not released the Rs 2 lakh that was raised for my treatment. I need the funds for an eye operation.”
Not all experiences are bad
Who: Sushmita Murthy, 30, writer
Funds for: Heart surgery
The process of making an account on Ketto was easy. Once I submitted the necessary documents, my campaign was live in two days. I raised Rs 1.04 lakh in five days. Since the patient needed the funds urgently, I shut down the campaign prematurely. The donations that came in rupees got transferred to my account in a couple of weeks. The foreign currency came by cheque and took a lot longer to process. I got a notification every time someone donated, so I could keep tabs on how much money was being raised. In the end, Ketto took a cut of 8-10 per cent as mentioned on the site. – As told to Aastha Atray Banan
Rs 3 lakh
The compensation awarded by the state government for acid attack survivors
Portion of the total donations raised that Ketto had withheld from Shabbo Shaikh