Acid Attacks: A burning issue among Indian Women

 Dr Smitha Shine
Violence against women and girls (VAWG) all over the world is an endless critical problem, which is shattering and is a violation of Human Rights. It can occur in both public and private spheres of life at any time of their life span. Violence against women has a very long history, though the incidents and intensity of such violence have varied over time and even today varies between societies. Such violence may arise from a sense of superiority, entitlement, misogyny or similar attitudes in the perpetrator or because of his violent nature against women. It is often seen as a mechanism for the subjugation of women, whether in society in general or in an interpersonal relationship. At least one out of every three women around the world has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime with the abuser usually someone known to her. Some of the forms of violence against women are rape, domestic violence, sexual harassment, acid throwing, dowry violence, female genital mutilation, marriage by abduction, forced marriage, forced abortion, female infanticide, prenatal sex selection, trafficking in women and forced prostitution, street harassment, cyber harassment. This violence adversely causes psychological, sexual and reproductive health consequences. Certainly, women who are responsible for giving birth to life, unfortunately, made to lose their lives in the name of different violence. Hence it has become a crucial issue of discussion at every platform in the modern world. Among this violence, acid attack is the most heinous form of violence against women.
Acid attack or vitriolage is the act of throwing acid onto the body of a person with the intention of injuring or disfiguring them out of jealousy or revenge. The most common types of acid used in these attacks are sulfuric, nitric or hydrochloric acid. Perpetrator’s aim is not to kill the victim but to leave her in a pathetic condition. In most cases, people purposely aim for the face – destroying the eyelids, so the eyes remain open – as a woman’s face is seen as sacred. Her disfigurement then becomes a public mark of shame, making it hard for her to get married or gain employment. The long term consequences of these attacks are blindness and permanent scarring of the face and body. These Injuries leaves scars not only on the body but also mentally. Usually, the reasons for acid attacks are connected to domestic disputes, including dowry disputes, and refusal of a proposition for marriage or of sexual advances.
Studies revealed that India has the highest incidence of acid attacks in the world.It is estimated that around 1,000 acid attacks take place in India every year. There are many unreported cases of acid attacks where victims die, especially in rural areas. Sometimes people try to hide information if the attacker was the husband or a family member of the victim. Regardless of age and social status the victims' list includes V.S. Chandralekha IAS, the first women collector in Tamil Nadu turned politician to the recently happened case at Gujarat where a man was allegedly killed his baby daughter by pouring acid on her.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) for the year 2017, Uttar Pradesh topped the chart with 60 cases, while West Bengal is just behind with 54. Delhi comes third and has 17 cases, and Kerala has 13 cases in fourth along with Odisha. In India, there were no separate statistics for acid violence cases until early 2013 as Indian Criminal Law did not recognize it as a separate offence. With the amendment in the Indian Penal Code in 2013 (The Criminal Law (Amendment)Act, 2013), incidents of acid attacks are no being recorded as a separate offence under Section 326A and 326B of the Indian Penal Code. Despite of the legal framework there has been a steep rise in the number of cases. Supreme Court set out guidelines in the case of Laxmi v Union of India (2013) regarding the regulation of the sale of acid, compensation for the victims, after-care, and rehabilitation of the survivors, limited compensation from the government, reservation in educational institutions, and easier access to jobs. However, the mere reality is that a lot of survivors find it really hard to get a job or educate themselves due to discrimination in society.
Somehow there is a relief when the government of India includes acid attack victims under the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016. This is to ensure that no one can violate the rights of acid attack survivors and discriminate against them. In order to get all the benefits, an acid attack survivor needs to be assisted throughout a long journey starting from immediate medical assistance to filing writ petitions for compensation as well as the rehabilitation. Thus rebuilding a life after an acid attack is not so easy. Instead of all these pain, many acid attack victims overcome those dark days and became an inspiration to other survivors.
For many years, the government and the police have tried hard to eradicate these crimes. As the rising number of acid attacks, it becomes a responsibility of our society to contribute towards the prevention of such heinous crimes. In this scenario the work done by organizations like HRLN(Human Right Law Network), CCRI(Centre for Constitutional Rights India) and Meer Foundation for the rehabilitation and protection of acid attack victims are remarkable.