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Burned With Acid For Spurning Sexual Advances

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By Shelly Mahajan:

The one big change witnessed after Delhi gang rape protests, to put ironically, is the increased number of cases of acid attacks on women. Acid attack also known as Vitriolage is an illustration of changing face of violence against women in India, perpetuating at a light year’s speed. Sonali, Vinodhini, Vidya, Preeti are few names that remind us of how violence knows no boundaries and deserves no clemency. The recent case of acid attack on Preeti Rathi who succumbed to acid injuries, has yet again initiated a debate on acid attack laws and it’s regulation in the country.


Acid attacks have increasingly become a weapon for snubbed suitors to serve their vengeance. Every year, media reports of jilted lovers turning to acid bottles to give their love story a venomous end. This year itself we have seen a dreadful rise in such cases despite the legislation of the Criminal Law Amendment Bill, aimed at dealing with cases of violence against women strongly.

However, the law insufficiently deals with the compensation and rehabilitation of victims and controlling free sale of acid across the country. The over-the-counter sale of acid in India and its growing abuse is an alarming situation, something no less perilous to the US gun culture and its criminal counterpart. It is absolutely petrifying to learn that a bottle of acid is easily available in market at a pitiful price of Rs.30, dignified as sole reason for the rise in cases.

What is more alarming is the fact that there are no records or figures available on such attacks as till recently we did not recognise vitriolage as a ‘separate offence’ under the Indian Criminal Law. The little that we know of these attacks is through grey literature — findings of NGOs, media reports that readily acknowledge the underestimation. So far, cases are registered under different sections of the Indian Penal Code that results in flawed valuation and a distorted reality.

The immense callousness in dealing with cases of violence against women has undermined the essence of women empowerment in the country. Not only there exist loopholes in legislations but the legal framework also lacks effectual disposal of cases. Accused are repeatedly left scot free or are never caught. In the particular case of Preeti Rathi, over a month of investigation has passed and perpetuators are yet to be arrested.

Meanwhile, let’s not forget the everlasting scar it leaves on the victim’s life. The agony of losing oneself, one’s identity and inability to face the long term repercussions is extremely appalling. The attack is followed by several months of hospitalisation, numerous surgeries and a life bereaved of redress. The trauma of disfigurement is such that victims are often compelled to end their lives.

It is exceedingly important to understand the nature of acid attacks from a victim’s frame of view. Let’s not treat such crimes as mere attacks of violence which may be dealt with adding years to punishment. There is an augmenting need for keeping checks on acid sale in the country. It is highly unlikely that they may be banned altogether but their regulation shall be given utmost importance. We all know that acid attacks are not a new phenomenon, what has changed is their do-ability and frequency.

India must take lessons from its neighbours and legislations abroad. Bangladesh today boasts of an Acid Control Act, 2002. The Act renders unlicensed production, import, transport, storage, sale and use of acid as punishable, inviting a sentence of three to ten years. Besides, Bangladesh has also established tribunals dedicated to provide fast track disposal of such cases. In addition, the country has its first specialised NGO on such issues – Acid Survivors Foundation that is increasingly contributing towards declining cases. Countries like Pakistan, Cambodia and Uganda have also worked towards reviewing their acid laws with special emphasis on checking acid sales and harsher punishments for perpetuators.

A healthy, protective and liberal environment is what the one-half of India’s female population deserves. It is only through determined measures and altered perceptions that we can achieve a society convivial to women’s aspirations.

So let’s be quick in our action, careful in our remarks and bold in our approach for ‘WE’ deserve the best of mankind!

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  1. Raj

    Agreed, there should definitely be laws specific to acid attacks. Not sure if restricting the sale of acid will help since they are used as toilet cleaners and disinfectants

    1. Shelly Mahajan

      Thank you for your participation! Raj, I see your concern. Idea is not to ban acid sale altogether but simply about it’s regulation which government has started to look at. What has been suggested is that one would have to produce identity cards and given reason behind the purchase soon, A lot is also being done about assessing the strength of the acids and keep them within the permissible levels. Over the counter sale at a meagre price needs to be done away with. It would not be wrong to suggest selling products like Harpic, as Priyanka already said, at subsidized prices if deemed necessary. Let’s not forget the gun lobby in the US and create our own acid disaster back home. Let’s prioritize, what is more important..toilet cleaning or an individual’s life? I am sure that would soon be a debate as human life comes cheap in 21st century.Think about it!

    2. Raj

      Please read my response to Priyanka. I have explained why I don’t like banning and regulating as a general approach. It is fine when you have dangerous chemicals which can have huge 3rd party effects such as industrial amounts of chemicals, nuclear wastes etc.
      The debate is actually between liberty over so-called security. Human freedom is done away cheaply too, these days.

  2. Priyanka Parti

    For god’s sake, if Bangladesh can have a rule for such incidences 10 years ago (Acid Control Act, 2002)…. What is India waiting for?

    30/- is cheap money considering the expensive price for someone’s life. Look at the girl’s angelic hand vs her face… Bleeds me as a woman!!

    Insightful article on age old story!

  3. Priyanka Parti

    Also, to address previous commentator’s concern – I think our gigantic economy can be worked to get “Harpic” subsidized n get Acid sale expensive to address such a pity issue called “toilet-cleaning”

    1. Shelly Mahajan

      Priyanka,you absolutely have reason! It’s extremely sad to see such state of affairs for so long. Surely, it can be attributed to immense amount of ignorance.

    2. Raj

      Excuse me but Harpic is pretty dangerous too, not to mention loads of other chemicals and cleaners. And your arguments are equally valid for anything that can hurt or kill including kitchen knives, hammers, kerosene etc. So I would be careful about casually banning/regulating something or the other, especially since it is unlikely to be enforced.
      And let’s be clear about this. An ordinary citizen who buys acid isn’t suddenly going to develop the urge to commit acid attacks. People who commit acid attacks buy it with that intent in mind. And it is a crime that a person plans and executes, not suddenly out of anger or at the spur of the moment. So putting a minor hurdle like having ID cards etc. or selling at select outlets isn’t going to help keeping the perpetrators at bay. You have to enforce these new rules to a very strong extent.Why not put that effort and resources into catching the perpetrators and punishing them?
      Such legislations on the face of it seem to protect the populace but lead to more bureaucracy, black-markets and prevent well-meaning people and business from going about their own work.
      My approach would be the removal of all such unnecessary legislation, bans and regulations and instead spend that effort is strengthening the law and order system to catch the perpetrators and punishing them.
      Another place where such regulation has failed miserably would be guns. Today in India, criminals and goondas have access to illegal guns whereas honest law-abiding citizens don’t have access to legal guns.

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