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When Acid Is Thrown On Someone’s Face, The Attempt Is A Lot More Than To ‘Disfigure’ Them

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.

Image source: YouTube
Image source: YouTube

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 the 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.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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