By Nikitha Hingad:India has the highest number of acid attacks in the world. There are 1,500 recorded acid attacks each year with more than 1,000 cases estimated to occur in India alone. Acid is used in gang fights and personal enmity. There are no prizes for guessing that most of the survivors of acid attacks are of course women.
There are various reasons for attacks on women, like domestic disputes, land disputes or a simple rejection of a marriage or love proposal, and even dowry cases. Despite the frequency of occurrence of this crime, the weapon “acid” is easily available in any town or village or a city. Acid sale is officially banned in India, but it is used in toilet cleaning in many areas, and thus easily available. It also costs less than a rupee a litre.
Acid attack was declared a specific criminal offence by the Supreme Court only in the year 2013 and survivors are given compensation up to 3 lakh rupees from the Central Victim Compensation Fund. But that may be not enough for costly plastic surgeries. Most survivors are from the poorer sections of the society and these attacks have, in many cases, damaged their face and even blinded a few.
When a woman is attacked by acid on face, it is not only the face she has to cover, she has to cover all of her identity from the ugly face of our society that doesn’t let an acid survivor lead a normal life after the attack. Her social life is cut down as she cannot face people.
I want to understand why, in many cases, the face of the survivor is attacked. Maybe by targeting the face the survivor, which is her exterior expression of beauty, she is made weak.
I would like to quote a case reported by the Guardian in August 2015. Geeta Mohar’s husband poured acid on her for giving him a daughter and not a son. As is evident to me, and I hope to many others, a lot of people do take pride in keeping their women in control by threatening them with an acid attack.
As per the Avon Global Centre for Women and Justice, 35% acid attacks are because of a rejection of a proposal. Firstly, I would like to understand the mindset of these proposers. Unlike most cultural societies of the world, in Indian small towns and villages and most parts of cities as well, there is a lack of communication among the opposite sex. So for the best way to find a girl to fall in love with is on streets, near bus stops, outside colleges, etc.
So when a girl walks out of the house she enters another’s territory. Roadside Romeos whistle at her. It is often seen as a male thing to chase a woman. And sadly, that is what Bollywood too portrays most of the time. Eve teasing, stalking a love object is an accepted behaviour in our society, and unfortunately, jilted love is a major reason for many acid attacks in our country.
Let me give you an example. A girl goes to her college every day. She ignores eve teasers. One day she slaps them hard. But he thinks her touch was worth it. Then he follows even more. He assumes her silence to be yes. And when she rejects him one day, his ego is hurt, after that all that hard work he put in. He cannot take rejections. So he is revengeful and attacks her with acid. He thinks just because she is blessed with good looks, she has no right to be proud of herself. How can she even say ‘No’?
Ritu Shaini from Rohtak was attacked by her own older cousin with acid. He liked her and she ignored him. Though he was imprisoned for life, Shaini was forced to drop out of school in 2012 because it became difficult for her to live in society after the attack, as reported in The Guardian.
But unlike most survivors of acid attack, Monica Singh has inspired many lives and was featured on Youth Ki Awaaz in August 2014. She has not given up after she was attacked with acid by a friend from whom she refused a marriage proposal. She has had 46 surgeries and still doesn’t look like before. Her parents invested everything had in her medical expenses and education. Though she couldn’t be a model, she continues to work in the fashion industry and has been an intern under Manish Arora. She is currently in New York studying fashion marketing.
Laxmi, who is a survivor of acid attack, started a campaign that led the Supreme Court of India to bring out an order to curb acid sales. Laxmi claims that not much has changed on the ground, despite all the regulations. “Acid is freely available in shops. Our own volunteers have gone and purchased acid easily. In fact, I have myself purchased acid,” she stated.
Poongkhulali Balasubramanian, pro bono coordinator at J. Sagar Associates, says that problems in India prosecuting acid violence cases are related to a cracking the justice system rather than the nature of the crime. As per Thomson Reuters, acid attack survivors face a long wait for justice.
Bangladesh, our neighbour, is being praised for reducing attacks. Years back the numbers in their country were far more disturbing than India. Under the leadership of Monira Rahman, executive director of Acid Survivors Foundation, acid attacks were reduced considerably. In her TEDx talks, she says that ASF provided free psychological and hospital care to acid attack survivors. It also established its branches in other places in Bangladesh apart from Dhaka to reach out to the rural areas. There was also a strong social movement using celebrities as supporters including the Police. In 2002, a separate Act was constituted– the Acid control Act. I believe that using Bangladesh ASF as a model, the Supreme Court of India should constitute a new law to combat Acid Attack.
The purpose of this article is not to report cases of acid attack, but to understand the root cause behind such attacks. According to the Director of Acid Survivor Foundation India, in India most acid attack cases are because of male egos and jealousy. Most social activists point out that the root cause is not availability of acid, but the cultural and social problems in our society. To reduce attacks, gender sensitization workshops need to be conducted in smaller towns, where these crimes happen more often. And law makers need to be stricter about such cases, because though the woman doesn’t die, her life is still ruined, for no fault of hers. It is not easy to have a social life with a stigma attached to disfigurement and being the survivor of an acid attack.