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The Price Of A Lifetime Of Tribulations: Less Than The Price Of One Liter Cola Bottle #StopAcidAttacks

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By Saumya Sahni:

The recent Supreme Court legislation on acid has come as a breather. The legislation states that acid will now be regarded as a “poison” and strict measure will be enacted to deter spurned lovers post the Laxmi acid attack case a few weeks back. But still, one appalling reality that one needs to be wary of, is the easy availability of these acids which have not been curbed even after so many grave instances.

Picture of Laxmi from the Facebook  page of 'Stop Acid Attacks'
Picture of Laxmi from the Facebook page of ‘Stop Acid Attacks’

One can buy such corrosive substances from a nearby kirana store! So, this is why acids are becoming a frequented option these days. There are no legal restrictions imposed on buying or selling acid. Anyone can legally purchase acid over the counter in pharmacies, goldsmith and hardware shops.

Even if these women try reshaping their lives, the society and the system shun them which makes the path ahead very difficult. The road which they intend to walk on is nothing short of obstacles, depression, anxieties and insomnia. Some of them are entangled figuring their way out of the miseries while some of them do stand up, fight back and rise like a phoenix. “It has been almost 13 years since when my daughter was attacked. It has been a long arduous journey for all of us since then. She has undergone eight operations since then. We have almost become bankrupt because of the exorbitant costs of the surgeries. It has broken our back but my daughter Arti today feels a lot better and has her self-esteem intact”, says Pratap Saran Srivatava, father of Arti Srivastava who was attacked in the year 2000 by one of her classmates on her refusal to a love proposal.

Haseena in 1999, Arti Srivastava in 2000, Shonali Mukherjee in 2003 and now Preeti Raathi in 2013. The list of victims keeps on increasing at an alarming pace and so do the criminals. Generally, an acid takes not more than 15-30 seconds to disfigure someone’s face. How easy and less time consuming this “weapon” has become is not too hard to ascertain if you refer to the earlier cases. “The acid is concentrated and yes it can burn the face entirely “ says Rupesh, a shopkeeper at Vardaan Chemicals, Rohini. When asked about the price, “It costs Rs 25 per litre”.

Since the acids are used as cleansing agents in many households and in laboratories in schools and also in hospitals, it is also not viable to completely stop the sale of these substances. “Our demand is not banning the substance. It is upsetting that we have to resort to ban a product but can’t do anything to put an end to these malpractices. The fact that it is easily available encourages such crimes. Therefore, suitable regulations like licensing, restricted open market sale of acid and selling it in very diluted forms are advisable”, says a concerned Alok Dixt, the co-founder of Stop Acid Attacks campaign (SAA)

Government needs to ban these substances. There is no other option available in sight also as of now. Criminals take an advantage of the low cost and immediate effects”, states Pratap Srivastava who has been struggling to win this battle but hasn’t yet met with affirmative results since the assailant’s term was reduced from 10 years to 6 years by the justice after he was convicted for the crime he committed. Ironically, today he is a happily married man with children and Arti is still undergoing a slew of medical surgeries.

According to surveys and researches, India is at the fourth position which treats its women cruelly. Bangladesh, Cambodia and Iran also follow suit but they all have enacted preventive measures to curb the incidence, especially Bangladesh. Bangladesh has the credit of adopting two acts dedicated especially to acid attacks- Acid Control Act 2002 and Acid Crime Prevention Act 2002 which have been effective in bringing down the rate of acid attacks. These acts consist of provisions which regulate the open market sale of acids. In Iran, the law permits an eye for an eye where the attacker is punished according to what is demanded by the victim.

Nevertheless, despite all the hindrances, every cloud has a silver lining. It is heartening to see that people have now started to take initiatives to work towards the rehabilitation of the victims. Centers are being step which help the victims with counseling and work towards their rehabilitation and also provide them with work opportunities. “Chhanv” is one such initiative started by journalist and blogger Alok Dixit along with Archana Kumari, Sapna Bhavnani, Aseem Trivedi and others to provide a shelter home to acid attack survivors undergoing treatment in New Delhi. The centre is managed and run by acid attack fighters who have recovered with their true grit. Acid Survivors Trust International is the only international organisation in the world working at international level to put an end to acid burns and violence. They also work with UN agencies, NGOs and strategic partners from across the world to increase awareness of acid violence and develop effective responses at the national and international level. In India, it is called Acid Survivors Forum.

With the help of these campaigns and awareness projects coupled with drastic improvements with respect to the law and criminal procedure, all we can look forward is to no more acidic tales of another Preeti Rathi and Laxmi.

You must be to comment.
  1. Raj

    I strongly oppose such cosmetic measures like banning reasonable quantities of commonly available but dangerous tools and substances. Because such quick-fix feel good measures are NO SUBSTITUTE for what is really needed : To catch and severely punish the perpetrators. I am disappointed with the well-intentioned naive people who think such measures will actually work. Have they considered the following qns :

    – Having a bottle of acid in my hand doesn’t make me lose control and throw it on people. Acid attacks are well-planned. The criminal buys it, plans it in advances and executes the crime. Acid isn’t like alcohol or heroin that makes people lose control
    – How are you going to able to regulate this since we are talking about minuscule quantities, not industrial amounts? Hire more bureaucrats? More police? Why not allocate these resources in catching and punishing that tiny group which does commit such heinous crimes?
    – Well meaning people who use acid for legitimate uses (which makes up 99.9% of acid users) are NOT going to bother following such senseless laws. After all, did prohibition stop alcohol use in Gujarat? The law is a joke and people break it with impunity. This is pathetic since it causes people to lose respect for the law in general.

    And yes, acid-attacks will decrease anyway as our society matures, our economy grows and a our police force improves. Our homicide rate per capita has fall sharply in the last 15 years to give an example. But I would give no credit to such laws for such decline.

  2. Saumya Sahni

    As far as the naivety of the people is concerned, that will surely develop once the society matures as you rightly said. The law is nothing but a mockery. Regulation does not only imply banning that has to be made clear. It also includes selling it in diluted forms. Another aspect which needs more light is licensing. Half of the dealers are not licensed sellers. Rapes have still not stopped, how can we assume that punishments will reduce acid attacks? Well meaning people are already aware of the hazardous implications of using an acid the wrong way, they will definitely bother. Also, we can’t wait till that time till our society matures for acid attacks to stop. Concrete measures have to be taken. Gender sensitization is important. Utmost, the easy accessibility to anyone and everyone has to stop. The new regulation which says that a person who intends to buy an acid now needs to submit his identity proof and mention the purpose of purchasing the acids need to be more clear on their transparency of the process.

    1. Raj

      No, I was talking about the naivety of the well-intentioned people who think such bans and regulations will actually help in reducing acid attacks.

      If diluted forms were indeed required, they would already be sold in those forms. There are many stronger acids which are not sold popularly because there is no need for that degree of corrosiveness. My point is that people will find ways around easily since nobody will bother enforce the law, neither the public nor the police since none of them believe that 99.9% of acid users are doing anything wrong. Which is why I gave the example of Prohibition in Gujurat; nobody respects that stupid law.
      Your point about ID proof etc. should be valid for even knives since a large number of murders are stabbing incidents. Why not stop regulate that? Do you think it will help bring down stabbing incidents or even catch the criminal?

      Also, how does licensed selling help ? Is acid sold by a licensed acid any safer than unlicensed acid?

      It isn’t right to compare acid attacks with rapes since a good number of rape cases are not the brutal violent rapes like the one in Delhi. A lot of rape cases being registered are statutory rapes, false marriage promises, invalid consent due to alcohol etc.And there is quite a bit of evidence to show that such brutal rapes do indeed go down with a strong law and order situation. i.e. compare Africa and US/EU, the intensity of rapes is completely different, even though places like Sweden have the highest rape reporting per capita in the world.

      I’m not asking anybody to wait, rather I’m asking that people demand that the resources that are going to be spent on harassing 99.9% of legitimate users instead be directed to catching and punishing that 0.1% criminals who commit acid attacks.

  3. Alisha Beotra

    This grim situation cannot change with a small feature like a ban on acid purchase. Firstly, bans are hardly implemented properly. Secondly, conscience of a person is what needs to be clear to make him refrain from such heinous crimes. If not acid, a psychopath will find other more atrocious measures to inflict harm upon the innocent.
    Stricter laws, a more efficient police force and a few projects-cum-campaigns are quintessential. When this is achieved, when the fear that has evaporated from people’s mind returns, it will be the day this ghastly reality also changes.

    1. Raj

      Well put. Add to that economic prosperity and social change.

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