Archive for the ‘Acid-Attacks’ Category

Laws fail the acid test as attacks rise

January 5, 2009

Laws fail the acid test as attacks rise

4 Jan 2009, 0157 hrs IST, Neelam Raaj, TNN

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/Sunday_TOI/Laws_fail_the_acid_test_as_attacks_rise/articleshow/3932686.cms

As 2008 drew to a close, so did 22-year-old Swapnika’s life. A spurned lover had thrown acid at her as the final-year engineering student returned home from college in Warangal, Andhra Pradesh. She died on December 31. Blinded and burnt, her 21-day ordeal ended in hospital.

Swapnika is one of many. Each year, a number of women are killed, maimed, blinded or scarred for life in acid attacks across the country. But they don’t even become a national statistic to mourn. The National Crime Records Bureau doesn’t collect data on acid attack victims. But piece the picture together from newspaper reports and the gravity of the problem is clear. Just days after the attack that disfigured Swapnika and eventually took her life, acid was thrown at a girl in Delhi as she stepped out of a metro station. She escaped with minor burns but not everyone is so lucky. In August, a 20-year-old Kolkata tailor threw acid at teenaged sisters because their mother had refused to let him marry the younger one. Both girls were fearfully disfigured.

Activists who work with survivors of acid attacks lament the lack of laws to regulate the sale of concentrated acid. “A 10-year-old can walk into a shop and buy a litre of highly concentrated acid over the counter for less than 20 rupees,” says Sheila Ramanathan who heads the Human Rights Law Network in Bangalore. Ramanthan points out that Bangladesh has an Acid Control Act, which regulates the sale of acid and also the way it is produced, stored and transported. But in India, acid is carelessly allowed to become a deadly weapon.

“Prevention is the only way to stop these attacks. There is no other quick-fix as the scars that are left behind are permanent,” says Sanjana, who works with the Campaign and Struggle Against Acid Attacks on Women (CSAAAW). A Bangalore-based coalition, CSAAW has compiled a list of 65 cases in Karnataka alone between 1999 and 2008. “These are just the victims we have met. There are scores of others and not just in Karnataka,” says Sanjana, who has made a documentary film on the subject called ‘Suttaru Sollapavadaru’ (Burnt, but not defeated).

It’s a myth that women are attacked with acid only after they reject sexual advances. Sanjana says “it’s a form of gender violence and often women who exercise their independence are targeted. When we talked to survivors, we found that women of all castes, classes and religions were being attacked by husbands, lovers, employers, jealous colleagues and even landlords.”

The CSAAAW famously helped Hasina Hussain get justice after her former boss Joseph Rodrigues poured 1.5 litres of sulphuric acid on her when she quit her job in his financially unstable firm in 1999. The acid melted her face, fused her shoulder and neck, burnt a hole in her head, merged her fingers and blinded her for life. In 2006, the Karnataka high court sentenced Rodrigues to life imprisonment.

It was a landmark case, now the source of hope to many who survive acid attacks. But experts say the existing laws are sorely inadequate. In the absence of a specific law, acid attacks come under the purview of Section 326 of the IPC, which deals with voluntarily inflicting grievous physical injuries with a weapon. But it is a bailable law and carries a maximum punishment of seven years in prison. Consequently, the victim is left to face life scarred and disfigured forever but her attacker is granted bail and can hope for a trial delayed for decades.

But that could change. The National Commission for Women (NCW) has prepared a draft of the Prevention of Offences (by Acids) Act, 2008. The Bill, which has been sent for approval to the Union ministry of women and child development, specifically deals with acid attacks. It includes schemes to treat and rehabilitate victims. “The NCW’s proposed amendments to the IPC will make acid attacks a cognizable, non-bailable offence, which will attract a prison term of not less than 10 years,” says Samarender Chatterjee, member-secretary, NCW.

Activists welcome the proposed law but say the focus should be controlling the sale of acid rather than punishing the perpetrators. “It is a band-aid solution. For an acid attack victim, no amount of money for plastic surgery or punishment for the accused can wipe the pain and trauma away,” says Sanjana.