FYI 24th August, 2020

What Is Lacking In India’s Acid Attack Laws?.

“I came to know that there are many acid attack victims in India after I got attacked, I had not even heard of acid attacks before,” said Reshma Qureshi, an acid attack survivor. Qureshi was just 17 and on her way to a school exam when a group of men threw acid on her face. The attackers behind this were her relatives.

What Is An Acid Attack?

According to the National Commission of India, an acid attack is “any act of throwing acid or using acid in any form on the victim, with the intention of or with the knowledge that such person is likely to cause to the other person permanent or partial damage or deformity or disfiguration to any part of the body of such person”. It results in severe pain, permanent disfigurement, subsequent infections and often blindness in one or both eyes. All of which is followed by the psychological trauma caused by such attacks.

How Insensitive Can People Be?

Faizal Siddiqui’s controversial TikTok video has been speculated to be an incident promoting acid attacks. In this video, he is seen throwing a ‘liquid’ on the face of a woman after she betrays him. The liquid in the video is compared to acid. The girl is then seen with paint on her face giving an impression of acid attack.

In response to this, acid attack survivor Laxmi Aggarwal took to Instagram to criticise this kind of behaviour and wrote, “We are working day and night to stop acid attacks, violence against women. This cringe activity is not called influencing but promoting the crime.” Acid attacks in India have a gendered aspect to them: an analysis of news reports revealed at least 72% of reported attacks included at least one woman or girl target. 

Legal Aspects Of The Issue

Can you imagine that till 2013 there was no specific law for acid attacks?! That’s right. IPC Sections 322, 323, 320, 326,[2] were to be applied to this crime and the compensation which will be awarded to the survivors was far from their medical expenses. As there was (and still is!) an extensive rise in acid attacks, there was a pressing need for a specific law for the same. Finally, this issue came before the court in the case of Laxmi vs Union of India.

An analysis of news reports revealed at least 72% of reported attacks included at least one woman or girl target. 

In this case, Laxmi was 15-years-old when she was attacked with acid in New Delhi. Sadly, the remedy she got under the IPC was lesser than her medical expenses, not counting the trauma she would be forced to suffer throughout her life. Eventually, she decided to file a PIL by seeking a new law or amendment to the existing laws dealing with acid attacks, besides asking compensation for acid attack survivors.

The Honorable Supreme Court, in this particular case, came up with regulations relating to the sale and purchase of acid to regulate its easy availability. It made a regulation stating that while purchasing acid, one should show their photo-based identity card given by the government and they have to mention the purpose of buying it. The seller of the acid also has to submit that to the police action within three days.

The Supreme Court directed all states and union territories to frame the guidelines to regulate the sale of acid. Following this judgment, the IPC recognized acid attacks as a crime under 326 A and 326 B. The Criminal Procedure Code was amended and sections 357 A and 357 B were inserted for the compensation of acid attack survivors. The Indian Evidence Act was amended, with section 114 B inserted.

Highest Number of Acid Attacks: India

India has the highest number of incidents of acid attacks in the world. A country where the sale of acid over the counter was officially banned in 2013 – we still have too many cases. Most of these cases were women who are attacked as a form of domestic violence, for dowries or in response to a rejection (them practising their right to consent).

Even though these cases are supposed to be in fast-track courts, the road to justice continues to be long and exhaustive, leaving many survivors with no option but to renounce it midway. When these survivors go out to start their life afresh, they face stigma from society who alienate them.

Can you imagine that till 2013 there was no specific law for acid attacks?

What The Data Has To Say

As per the latest figures from the National Crime Records Bureau, acid attacks have been extensive in the last decade with shocking cases being reported from different parts of the country. Topping the list are states like Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Delhi, Odisha and Kerala. A total of 244 acid attack cases were recorded across the country in 2017 alone.

According to statistics, about 300 acid attacks are reported in India each year. On the other hand, according to the advocates of survivors, the number of attacks is probably closer to 1,000. In contrast, in the neighbouring country Bangladesh, acid attacks have reduced since new laws prohibited the sale of common chemicals.

The Journey Ahead

The Supreme Court has shown concern regarding the seriousness of the issue, though the same is not seen on the part of the government. In my opinion, the least the government can do is regulating the sale of hydrochloric, sulfuric, nitric and other acids – it could take down the number of attacks to some extent. On a personal level, we as people can provide strong social support, whether it comes from family members, friends, community or organisations so that the survivor doesn’t face social exclusion, and definitely playing a critical role to help them overcome obstacles and live full lives.

Also Read: Trafficking Law In India: Too Many Unanswered Questions

Featured image used for representational purpose only. Image source: Northline

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