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India: Acid-Attacks: A Social Crime

In correspondents, street harassment | on 07.15.13 | by | Comments ( 0 )

By Pallavi Kamat, SSH Correspondent

Trigger Warning

When we talk of street harassment, we usually visualize women being subjected to a few catcalls and obscene comments in public places. Over the last few years, in India, however, women are being confronted with a completely gruesome form of street harassment.

Women in different parts of India have faced acid attacks from men for several reasons, most common among them being refusal of a proposal. Men track down these women, accost them and attack them with acid leaving them severely scarred. Though the physical injuries may heal (after laborious and multiple operations), the mental injuries remain for life.

Instances include Preeti Rathi, a nurse who had left Delhi to come to Mumbai for work. She was attacked by an unidentified man at Bandra Terminus in May-2013 and eventually succumbed to her injuries a month later. In 2006, Bollywood actress Kangana Ranaut’s sister had acid thrown on her by a young man in Dehradun, Uttarakhand. In 2003, Sonali Mukherjee’s face was permanently disfigured by an acid attack in Dhanbad, Jharkhand, by three men who wanted to teach her a lesson. A property owner attacked Y N Mahalakshmi in 2001 in Mysore, Karnataka, because she had filed a complaint against him.

The widespread nature of such attacks can be attributed to the lack of specific laws against such attacks; men attack women blatantly in open streets because they know they can get away with it. Even if the woman does manage to raise a hue and cry and complain, it might be months, even years, before the men are punished. That is, if they are. Often men get away with a much lighter punishment. The easy availability of over-the-counter acid is another reason for such attacks.

Though there are no official statistics on acid attacks in India, a study conducted by Cornell University in 2011 stated that 153 attacks had been reported in the media from January 2002 to October 2010. Many of these were acts of revenge because a woman spurned sexual advances or rejected a marriage proposal.

Since the media and all of us in general have short-term memory, we speak about the incident for some days and then forget about it. The media moves on to more recent stories and we move on with our lives.

However, there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel. In April-2013, the Criminal Law Amendment Act, which got passed, defined an acid attack as a separate offence under the Indian Penal Code and proposed punishment of not less than 10 years to a maximum of life imprisonment for perpetrators and fines up to one million rupees. On 9th July, 2013, in response to a PIL filed in 2006 by a Delhi-based acid attack victim Laxmi, the Supreme Court of India came down heavily on the Central Government for not implementing the court’s order on regulating the sale of acid. It said that if the Centre did not come out with a scheme by 16th July, 2013, the Court would completely ban the sale of acid. In February-2013, the Supreme Court had asked the Centre to enact a law which would regulate the sale of acid and also incorporate a policy for treatment, compensation and rehabilitation of acid attack victims.

I hope such legislations prevent further acid attacks. The courts also need to speed up the process in the earlier cases so that the victims get justice, albeit delayed. Women should feel free to step out of the house without a nagging thought at the back of their heads that any spurned suitor may return to take his revenge.

Pallavi is a qualified Chartered Accountant and a Commerce Graduate from the University of Mumbai, India, with around 12 years of experience working in the corporate sector. Follow her on Twitter, @pallavisms.

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