Life reduced to a mere statistic

Life reduced to a mere statistic

Acid attack: It doesnt just scar the victim, but scars her life, her soul...

Life reduced to a mere statistic

According to a report published by The Campaign and Struggle against Acid Attacks on Women (CSAAAW) in 2008, the number of reported cases since 1999 stood at 65 in Karnataka. Of them, nine women lost their lives.

In a society that places a lot of importance on the looks of a woman, disfigurement through an acid attack remains a weapon of control exercised by men - husbands, spurned lovers, suitors or even landlords and ex-employers.

The law is yet to catch up by enacting rules specific to acid attack victims. For many, even if there is justice in the form of imprisonment of the attacker, their lives plunge into chaos and there is no respite from being singled out.

“After the attack, all the blame is on the woman. There are many, including me, who could not even get a house for rent, as the owners were scared that they would be dragged into it. Private companies directly say that we are too ugly and they cannot hire us,” says Haseena, whose ex-boss threw sulphuric acid on her, when she refused to work for him again. Haseena was 20 then.

She has since been a champion for the cause of women like her, as the battle for gaining any kind of justice is fraught with difficulties. After the attack, Haseena underwent 35 surgeries and is now completely blind. But she completed her education, learnt computer skills and typing, and is now a Central Government employee.

But it is not a happy ending. Haseena, like all acid attack victims, has to live a life that is full of complications. “Even a mosquito bite can cause a full blown infection and the immune system is practically non-existent,” she says.

Her attacker got a life term in 2007. “Of what use is life imprisonment that lasts seven to eight years? They walk away free while we suffer our entire lives,” she rues.

The only positive outcome of her case was a scheme that awards compensation and offers rehabilitation for victims of acid attack.

At present, a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by CSAAAW pending in the High Court seeks to force the State to introduce measures to deal more effectively and sensitively with acid attack cases, including amendment of Indian Penal Code. The PIL seeks assurances from government on speedy disposal of cases and conduct of investigations by gender sensitive officers.

“We have been demanding that acids should not be sold over the counter, but nothing has been done. There is also no deterrence factor. Even capital punishment will not work,” says Sushma Varma of CSAAAW.

For the past one year, it has been the job of the Women’s Commission to disburse the compensation amount and provide free legal aid to  victims. Chairperson C Manjula says that awareness has to be created to get more women to report the cases.

In rural areas, where education is low and social stigma is high on the list of priorities, such incidents rarely see the light of the day.

 A tale of grit in the face of torture

Syeda Rahmatunnisa’s burns could have been far worse had she not used her presence of mind to save herself by locking herself in the bathroom as soon as her husband threw acid on her. But saving herself was probably a reflex action on the part of the woman who had a horrendous time the past 12 years.

Her brother and eye specialist Dr Syed Siddique, who was waiting at the hospital hoping for the best, said that Syeda had a shower immediately after the attack and called her sister Ishrath. “The water helped reduce the intensity of the burns,” he said.

Her husband Wakeel, a school dropout, did not have a steady income and
 worked with a finance company. According to Syeda’s family, he harassed Syeda for money ever since their marriage.

Ishrath said: “My brother had given Rs two lakh and some gold to him a few months ago. But he was still unhappy.”

Wakeel also used to beat his wife and his two daughters aged nine and 11 regularly.  Siddique said the maid who worked in both their households used to inform them about Syeda’s sufferings.

But Syeda tried to salvage her life. She completed a fashion designing course and opened a boutique four months ago.  She also decided to get divorce and the couple was going through a 40-day waiting period. Friday was the last day of the period.

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