“I lost my childhood that day, I stopped going to school and lost all my friends,” these are the words of an innocent sixteen year old acid-attack victim, Laxmi Aggarwal. “People stared at me and mocked me. Neighbours and relatives blamed me, and said I must have done something wrong to earn the man’s wrath. My only fault was I refused the man’s proposal.”She spent eight years hiding her face but has now come out to face the world. She is not only standing holding her head high but she is also the face of the new campaign called ‘Stop Acid Attacks.’
But how many victims have come out to face the world? Not many, sadly. The attackers not only destroy the victims face, vision, hearing and other vital organs, but also the dreams of a beautiful future ahead. Acid violence drastically changes the life of the victim including education, employment and other aspects of normal life. Survivors often have to face social isolation that further damages their self-esteem and confidence and hampers their personal and professional future.
Acid burning is one of the most alarming and horrific forms of violence especially targeted at women. In India, a gender skew in acid attacks has been observed. Mostly girls are the target of this inhuman act. The Law Commission of India has stated that the majority of acid attack targets are ‘particularly young women for spurning suitors, for rejecting proposals of marriage, for denying dowry, etc. The attacker cannot bear the fact that he has been rejected and seeks to destroy the body of the woman who has dared to stand up to him.’
According to statistics, 80 percent of victims of these acid attacks are females and almost 70 percent are under 18 yearsof age. As a result, we cannot ignore the gender dimension of the crimes in our country.
These victims are attacked for many reasons. In some cases, the attack takes place because a girl or a woman has spurned the sexual advances of a male or has rejected a proposal of marriage. However, there have been acid attacks on children, older women and sometimes also on men. These attacks are often the result of family or land disputes, dowry demands or as a desire for revenge.
The highest occurrences of these attacks are due to family or land disputes. Following these are the attacks due to refusal of proposals of relationships or sex.
It has been said that ‘acid attacks are used as a weapon to silence and control women by destroying what is constructed as the primary constituent of her identity.’ The most dangerous thing about acid attacks is the fear that they create, the confidence that they shatter, the hopes that they erase and the dreams that they break of the victims. With just a few rupees, anyone can buy a weapon that can ruin another person’s life in just a few seconds.
The government has made new regulations to restrict the sale of acid in the country to control the frequency of these cruel attacks. The need of stronger laws was felt and so the 226th Law Commission of India Report, 2009 and Justice Verma Committee Report, 2012, both highlighted the need of making acid attacks a separate crime in the Indian Penal Code (IPC). As a result, the Criminal law (Amendment) Act, 2013 was passed in March 2013; making acid attacks a specific crime in the IPC punishable with 10 years to life imprisonment.
With the new law, only heavily-diluted, non-harmful acid will be available over the counter, and any person buying it will be recorded by the seller, will have to provide a purpose for the purchase and will need an identity proof with his residential address. The seller of the acid will need a licence to sell and has to maintain a record of the buyer.
Also, the victims will get 3 lakhs from the government as after-care and rehabilitation cost of which 1 lakh will be provided within 15 days of the incident.
But are these regulations enough? Doctors say that the medical cost of the victim is estimated to be around 50 lakhs. The cost of the surgeries is so high that even the basic treatment won’t fit into the compensation provided by the government. Even with excellent medical care, the best that most of these women can hope for is survival. If not treated immediately, they can lose their eyesight and spiral into depression. Many victims commit suicide.
No doubt the government made laws to control the attacks but there has to be proper implementation as well. “The act is a very important one, and it might even help a little,” points out Smriti Joshian acid attacks activist in Delhi.“But it’s not time to celebrate. It will take years to see the effect of the law. And it’ll only happen if the issue isn’t dropped after a day’s celebration at the ruling.”
About the Author
Sakshi is studying in ILS Law College, Pune. She currently finished her first year of the five-year law degree course. She has cleared the Company Secretary Foundation Examination. She aspires to become a well-known corporate lawyer. She likes to take part in extra-curricular activities as well in dancing, painting, or acting in plays. It’s her firm belief that working as a team is as important as working individually. She has earlier interned under Adv. Anil Kilor of High Court of Bombay-Nagpur Bench. She was also associated with an NGO called Janmanch. She has been a part of the Organizing Committee of the Justice Tarkunde National Parliamentary Debate competition, 2014. She is currently pursuing her internship with Alexis Centre for Public Policy and International Relations.