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!