By Anshul Verma:
In India it has been said that “Acid attacks on women are systematic form of gendered sexual violence, these attacks are used as a weapon to silence and control women by destroying what is constructed as the primary constituent of her identity i.e her BODY” Acid attacks are now becoming a growing phenomenon in India, most of the acid attacks have been committed on women, particularly young women for spurning suitors, rejecting proposals of marriage, for denying dowry among other reasons by traumatizing the victim physically, economically and psychologically for lifetime. The issue was also raised in the Supreme Court where a bench headed by Justice R.M. Lodha expressed displeasure by saying that they were not satisfied while directing the centre to convince in six weeks a meeting of Chief Secretaries of all states and Union Territories to hold a decision for enacting a law to regulate the sale of acids and a policy for treatment, compensation, care and rehabilitation to victims of acid attacks.
Before we set the ball rolling, we need to be clear of a few things. There is no point in relying on the age old rhetoric which says that women have a right to wear what they want, where they go, with whom they go and at what time they go. These are the things which have already been established and accepted by law. There cannot even be an iota of compromise in regard to the aforementioned inalienable rights of women. There are some very simple systemic inadequacies due to which such remorseful incidents take place. First, there is an across the board consensus that the law is not as stringent as it should be in cases pertaining to acid attacks, rapes and sexual assaults. Acid is readily available not only in major cities but also in small towns across rural areas costing less than Rs.100 a litre and anyone can purchase an unlimited amount without a question. Acid should be made a scheduled banner chemical which should not be available over the counter. Secondly, we need to ponder over as to what gives a slayer the audacity to do what he does. The answer is simple. The persons who committed the act must have had somewhere in their mind the notion that it was impossible for the police to nab them. This is because of the weak judicial system, The lack of support of the police and the financial pressure forces the families of the victims to reach out of court settlements. This is the golden administrative loop for the criminals- commit heinous crimes and then go underground until the matter dies down. There is an urgent need to sanction capital punishment for the perpetrators of such barbarous crimes.
It is this anomaly which has to be rectified by means of a well-coordinated civilized society. Of course we want courts, justice, laws but there can never be a change in the society if we don’t teach our young boys and men the fact that violence against women is not right. SENSITISATION is the only way out; the society should know that women are not an entity. Gender sensitisation should be taught at primary level in schools altering the mindset of the society. Past experiences tell us that such incidents regularly take place by the virtue of a devastating form of aggression and grudge, thereby transforming the victim into a figure of horror and an outcast.
Another important aspect of acid cases is the respectful resettlement of the acid survivor emphasizing on the societal trauma which acid victims have to go through. Instead of shaming the victim, we should start shaming the perpetrators of the crime by referring to the cases not by means of the identity of the girl but by the identity of man. Conjointly no amount of money can do justice to them but the exchequer should still do its bit. Along with this, in order to prevent victims from further turmoil, the government should, by means of legislation make it a crime to indulge in any sort of discrimination (including verbal slurs) against a girl on account of her being of the unfortunate status. This will provide victims with some relief as they are generally denied employment by misogynists. This nation is also in need of urgent police reforms. Tehelka’s sting operations in Noida effectively proved the misogyny and prejudice carried by our cops (including female ones) in relation to women who go through the trauma.
Acid attacks can be described as one of the grossest violations of human rights of women in the Indian society today. I feel that the entrance examinations to services like the police should include subjective questions on the issue of gender equity so that the perspectives of the candidates are clearly brought forth before their appointment and they should be grilled on the same during the interviews. Lastly and most importantly, the bigger question lies in ensuring the overall safety of women in our country. Our country is going through a tumultuous period where we are evolving from a feudal agricultural society to an advanced and industrialized one. There are unnamed and unnumbered victims of acid attacks who we read about everyday which collectively make India the fourth most dangerous country in the world for women.
This is a painstaking journey which breaks the shackles of bigotry and parochialism. Five decades back in the United States, the African American community was referred to by means of a harsh four letter word beginning with the letter ‘N’. That practice has now been nearly finished. No legislation was passed to do so. It’s purely a civilization achievement brought due to advancement in education and science. I expect the same to bring about a radical change in the attitude of the Indian society in relation to the equality of sexes. As far as men are concerned, there is only one piece of advice which we have for them which has been taken from a recent write-up of a girl on Tehelka which says, “My body is mine and you are not allowed to touch it without my permission whoever you are — friend acquaintance or lover.”