NO ONE DESERVES ACID
Incidents of acid attacks in which the perpetrator throws acid at the face of the victim are on rise. Such acid violence have a specific gender dimension in Indiaas a majority of reported victims have been women. While acid attacks constituteonly a fraction of the total number of violent incidents againstwomen, they are among the most horrific examples of brutality inflicted on women. The consequences, that follows include extreme pain, permanent scars on the face and body, blindness and in some cases even death. Throwing acid is undoubtedly among the grossest of human rights violations.
Acid has become a common weapon because it is cheap, widely available and can be easily carried, hidden, and used. Moreover, conviction rates in acid attack cases are dismally low. Acid attacks are used as a form of revenge, with the most common reasons for attack being victim’s outspokenness, a broken love affair, rejection of romance, spurned sexual advances, refusal of marriage, denial of dowry etc. The aim of most acid attacks is not to kill, but to disfigure and debilitate, something arguably more brutal than murder. In such cases, the perpetrator wants the victim to live and suffer physically and emotionally for the rest of her life.
The consequences of an acid attack handicap the victim in almost every possible way. An attack of this nature not only leaves the victim grotesquely disfigured but also traumatized for the rest of her life. It becomes extremely difficult to cope with life after an acid attack. The victim loses her identity and becomes socially isolated.Medical treatment is expensive and time consuming. Therefore, the victim may be forced to give up education, job or other activities in life.Most of the victims find it difficult to get a job. If unmarried,the victim may even find it difficult to get a suitable groom.
Unfortunately in India, there is no separate legislation to deal with acid attacks. The offence isregistered under Section 326 of the I.P.C. that deals with the offence of ‘Voluntary causing grievous hurtby dangerous weapons or means’. Under S. 326, the punishment can be life imprisonment, or imprisonment for a term which may extend to ten years. However, this section gives wide discretion to the courts as far as punishment is concerned. Not surprisingly, both the National Commission for Women and the Law Commission of Indiahave recommended tougher laws to curb acid attacks. Given, the extremely heinous nature of the act, both have suggested a minimum sentence of 10 years and a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.It may be noted here that Bangladesh, where such attacks are common, has introduced strict laws to curb acid attacks including death penalty in the most serious cases. The Bangladesh government has also enacted laws to regulate the sale and storage of strong acids.
After the leading case of Laxmi v UOI, the Supreme Court passed an order to put ban on selling of acid in shops. For preventing acid attacks, the Supreme Court has completely prohibited the counter sale of the chemical unless the seller maintains a recording of the address and other details of the buyer, and the quantum. Dealers can now only sell the chemical after the buyer showed a government issued photo identity card and after specifying the purpose of purchase. The seller should submit the details of sale to the local police within three days of the transaction. Acid should not be sold to any person under 18 and all stocks must be declared with the local sub-divisional magistrate (SDM) within 15 days. Undeclared stocks could be confiscated and the defaulter fined up to Rs.50, 000. Acid attack is now a non-bailable and cognizance offence.
Laxmi of 22 years old, who was an acid attack survivor was waiting for a bus in Delhi’s tony Khan Market in 2005, when two men poured acid on her after she refused to marry one of them, leaving her disfigured. Though the victim and her parents were poor they were fortunately helped by a benefactor who bore the medical expenses approximating to Rs. 2.5 Lakhs. However, even after 4 plastic surgeries the victim’s physical appearance remains horrific and many more surgeries would be required to make her physical appearance a semblance of what it was. The victim can of course never look as she did before the attack.
The Supreme Court directed all states to pay acid attack victim Rs. 3 lakh towards medical treatment and aftercare rehabilitation and Rs. 1 lakh within 15 days of an incident and the balance within two months thereafter. Alok Dixit, Founder of Stop Acid Attack says that the good thing that has come out of it is the compensation but that is for the girls who will be attacked in the future.
The above article highlights that acid attacks are an increasing phenomenon in India. However, since no special section in the Indian Penal Code deals with acid attacks, the incidents are not even recorded separately. Section 326 of the I.P.C, which deals with causing grievous hurt by throwing of a corrosive substance etc. is insufficient/ inadequate to deal with the issue. Firstly, the definition of grievous hurt is not broad enough to cover the various kinds of injuries which are inflicted during acid attacks. Secondly, the section does not cover the act of administering acid. Thirdly, the section gives a wide discretion to the courts as far as punishment is concerned. The cases on acid attacks in India show that normally inadequate punishment is awarded in these cases. Fourthly, the section in the I.P.C does not punish the intentional act of throwing of acid if no injuries occur. Lastly, the section also does not specify who the fine should be awarded to.
In such a scenario, it is absolutely essential that laws arestrictly enforced tomake sure that whoever commits crime is punished for it.Public abhorrence of the crime should be reflected through the imposition of exemplary punishment as a deterrent by the courts. Further, keeping in mind the huge medical expenses incurred by the victim, maximum compensation should be extracted from the perpetrator.The sale of strong acids should also be strictly regulated by law.Moreover, the patriarchal mindset of Indian society which tends to legitimizeviolence,also needs to be changed.Violence against women is deeply rooted in our patriarchal society where men use it as a coercive mechanism to assert their will. I wonder when will men stop treating women as chattels and accept women as individuals with rights and liberties.