Despite all the laws and instructions of the Supreme Court, acid attacks continue to plague India. According to the latest figures, West Bengal is in the first place in acid attacks.
In spite of being under the power of a woman chief minister, the rate of justice and compensation for women suffering from acid attacks in Bengal is very slow. The National Women’s Commission has recently prepared a National Digital Data Base for Acid Attacks to increase the pressure on the police chiefs of different states in order to speed up the process of rehabilitation and compensation for the victims. After passing the Criminal Law Amendment Act in 2013, after the inclusion of sections 326 A and 326 B in the Indian Penal Code (IPC), the accused now have a provision of punishment from 10 years to life imprisonment. Earlier in such cases, there was a provision of punishment for the maximum of three years.
The latest figures from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) show that the government and all the laws in preventing acid attacks have not been effective till now. These figures say that in 2016, 283 incidents of an acid attack were reported across the country. Out of these, 27% of the total number of 76 cases was in Bengal alone. After Bengal, Uttar Pradesh has a place where 57 cases are registered. In 2014, there were 203 such cases registered in the country, while 222 such cases were reported in 2015. But in 2016 the number of such cases increased to 283. A total of 233 people were arrested in 2016 in connection with these attacks.
Experts say that despite strict guidelines of the Supreme Court on the sale of acid in the country, they are not being strictly adhered to. Uncontrolled sale of acids is the biggest reason for such a crime. Despite the Supreme Court’s ban, it is not difficult to buy acids anywhere in the country. In the year 2013, the court directed the governments to license the sale of acids to select shopkeepers. Along with banning the sale of acid to minors, the court had said that the details of the sale of acid should be given to nearby police station within three days.
A detailed study by the Acid Survivors and Women Welfare Foundation (ASWWF) states that rejecting love and marriage proposals is the biggest reason for such attacks. At least 36% of the cases have seen similarities. Apart from this, such attacks have taken place in 13% of cases due to unrest in marital life. The report says that in 84% of cases, the attackers were familiar with the victim. According to the ASWF, 220 cases of acid attacks in Bengal were recorded between 2010 and 2016, which is 20% of the incidents that took place during this period.
In spite of being the first place in the case of acid attacks, Bengal’s record in the matter of giving justice and compensation to the victims is quite bad. ASIWWF Convener Dibyalok Rai Chowdhary says, “In the last few years, the rate of punishment for the accused in an acid attack in the country is 40%, whereas in West Bengal it is only 14%.” They say that after the attack, the victims stay in shock and in the hospital for months. During this, the culprit is either absconding or, by taking advantage of legal flaws, he prepares his defence.
The biggest challenge facing the survivor or the victim after acid attacks is to raise the cost of treatment. Their treatment or rehabilitation can take a long time. But the record of the Bengal Government is not good in this case. The information collected by the Association for Protection of Democratic Rights (APDR), under the Right to Information Act, has revealed that the government has compensated only in 18 of the 46 cases.
The APDR’s Bapi Dasgupta has been fighting cases for years for the victims and survivors of acid attacks. Apart from taking into account the information of compensation through the right to information, they are also campaigning to strictly enforce the rules related to the sale of acid. Says Bapi, “These attacks mainly use nitric acid, which is easily available in goldsmith shops, it is used to clean gold.” According to Jayanta Narayan Chatterjee, senior advocate fighting the cases of victims of acid attacks in the Calcutta High Court, “There should be no relation to compensation from the progress of investigating such attacks. Whether the accused is arrested or not, the compensation should be met first.”
National Women’s Commission has recently prepared a national digital database of acid attacks to increase the pressure on the police chiefs of different states in order to speed up the process of rehabilitation and compensation for the victims. According to Joint Secretary KL Sharma, the Commission, “This database records the progress of such attacks and investigation of the entire country, it shows that the victims get compensation or not, Whether the accused has been arrested or not.”
Legal experts and social organizations are advocating lessons from neighbouring Bangladesh to curb such attacks across the country, including West Bengal. In the case of such attacks till a few years ago, Bangladesh had the first place in the whole world. By the year 2002, there were 500 acid attacks in the country annually. But to curb such attacks, the country made two stringent laws that year and implemented them. Consequently, the number of attacks was reduced to a hundred in the year.
In the said laws, the sale of acids was completely banned. Authorities were forced to deal with such attacks. A National Acid Control Council was formed. The Bangladesh government has made it mandatory to complete the investigation of such attacks within 30 days. Rai Chowdhary says that it is also necessary to strictly enforce the existing laws and to change the attitude of the police administration to curb acid attacks.