What's needed is ostracisation of criminals, not of victims

Laxmi, a resident of New Delhi, blessed with the face of an angel and voice of a nightingale would spend hours singing.

She wanted to become the ‘Indian Idol’ and was waiting for the day when she will get that chance that will change her life. When she was 15, her life did change drastically! But not in the way she had thought of.

While waiting for a bus in a crowded area of central Delhi, a 32 year old man, who had developed a one sided liking towards Laxmi, attacked her with acid as she did not reciprocate his advances. As her flesh was burning, she kept screaming for help and later on for justice.

Tuba Tabassum, a bright 15 year old student from Bihar had big dreams. Not only intelligent but immensely beautiful Tuba was near the first milestone of her life, her 10th  class board exams for which she had spent sleepless nights burning the midnight oil. One bright morning, she stepped out of her house for her tuitions, and as the cool breeze was blowing through her long hair, all of a sudden she felt a stroke of a warm liquid slap her face. Within seconds her flesh melted away; leaving her with searing pain. As the ordeal became unbearable, she fell on the ground and the rest of the liquid was barbarously poured on her back. Her classmate who, liked her had attacked her with acid, after Tuba declined his proposal. Tuba has lost the power of speech and sight.

Unfortunately, our society has a lot of Tubas and Laxmis, writhing in vehement pain in some dark corner, with their faces lost and voices muted. What’s even worse, is that the number of such cases is ever increasing in India; the most common causes of such attacks being property disputes, domestic violence, dowry demands, personal animosity, refusal of sexual advances and rejected marriage proposals.

The crime is also rampant in countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Cambodia, China, Vietnam, South Africa, Uganda, Ethiopia and the United Kingdom. Various countries across the globe have formulated several legislations to tackle this abominable crime. The country with the most effective legislation against acid attacks is Bangladesh, and such legal action has resulted in a steady 20-30% decrease in acid violence for the past few years.

The acts like Acid Crime Control Act (ACCA) and Acid Control Act (ACA) in Bangladesh strictly control the sale, use, storage and trade of acids and have introduced death penalty or a degree of punishment corresponding to the area of body affected along with imposition of a fine of US$ 700 on the perpetrators and their aides.

Earlier in India, acid attacks used to be under the melange of a host of crimes that caused hurt, grievous hurt or attempt to murder and there was no specific law for this dastardly crime. A new law was passed in February 2013, following the Delhi gang rape case which also criminalises acid attacks. It defines acid attack as a separate Indian Penal Code offence and proposes a punishment of not less than ten years to a maximum of life imprisonment with a fine up to Rs 10 lakh.

Dealing with the issue

A landmark judgement by the Supreme Court in July, 2013 which came as a result of a PIL filed in 2006, by Laxmi, an acid attack survivor from New Delhi, bans the counter sale of acids. Only the licenced retailers are allowed to sell acid. Any buyer of acid has to produce a photo identity card and specify the purpose of purchase and get his details registered with the retailer. The verdict also has a provision of medical treatment and rehabilitation of the victims. Besides this, there are a lot of non-governmental organisations persevering to combat this crime. Organisations like “Stop Acid Attacks”, based out of New Delhi, focusses its work on all round development of acid attack survivors.

A survivor of an acid attack requires immediate medical, financial and psychological support on human grounds. In addition, many social implications exist for acid survivors, especially women. It’s an irony that instead of ostracising the criminals, our society ostracises the victim, further victimising the victim.

As citizens, in case of any such incident, it is very necessary to get the first aid as soon as possible, to prevent the acid from percolating to the bones. The most important first aid is to wash the affected body parts with fresh or saline water.

Remove all jewellery or clothing which was in contact with acid. Don’t apply any kind of cream or ointment on the affected area as it may slow the treatment procedure by doctors and rush the patient to a burn speciality hospital having isolated wards for burn patients.

The relatives of the victim should file a complaint with the local police station and also take the help of media in filing the complaint and identifying the perpetrators.
Over and above everything, the victim should not lose hope. Recently, an acid attack fighter Anu Mukherjee has been given a job at the Supreme Court of India. Laxmi, on the other hand has been awarded India TV’s bravery award, Justice Sunanda Bhandare Award, Ojaswini Award and has been featured in the Vodafone’s list of 60 most powerful women in India. Her strength to fight the adversities of life has not only won her a myriad of awards but also a life partner to support through the crests and troughs of life.

These attacks are plotted to demolish the victim’s confidence, to take away their identity, to put a veil not only on their faces but on their future. What the victims need to do is to unveil their faces and unleash their power. They have been through what no one else has been and hence they are stronger than anyone else can be!

(The writer is a PG student at Symbiosis Institute of Media and Communication, Bangalore)

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