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.
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.