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Acid Attacks On Women – A Burning Hell – By Irma Abbasi

Irma Abbasi
Freelance Writer

Images Credit:
International Business Times
Hindustan Times
India TV

Stop Acid Attacks On Women
خواتین پر تیزابی حملے بند کرو
महिलाओं पर एसिड अटैक रोकें

Acid Attacks on Women in India
“Melt Hate, Not Faces: Unite Against Acid Attacks!”
“Break the Chain, Quench the Pain: Say No to Acid Violence!”
“Transform Lives, Not Faces: Join the Movement to End Acid Attacks.”

Warning: This post contain images that may be disturbing to some viewers.

Acid attacks on women in India have emerged as a heinous and deeply disturbing form of violence, leaving indelible scars both physically and emotionally. Despite efforts to address this issue, the prevalence of acid attacks continues to cast a dark shadow over the lives of countless women across the country. An acid attack, also called acid throwing, vitriol attack, or vitriolage, is a form of violent assault involving the act of throwing acid or a similarly corrosive substance onto the body of another “with the intention to disfigure, maim, torture, or kill”. Perpetrators of these attacks throw corrosive liquids at their victims, usually at their faces, burning them, and damaging skin tissue, often exposing and sometimes dissolving the bones. Acid attacks can lead to permanent, partial, or complete blindness.
Acid attacks have been defined as a form of violence, in which acid or another corrosive substance is
thrown at a person – usually, a woman or a girl – with the intention of maiming, torturing, or killing
them(Action Aid, 2020). Women make up 80% of acid attack victims making these types of attacks highly gendered and deeply rooted in misogyny. Acid attacks are prevalent all around the world, however, research has shown that occurrences are most notably in South Asia.

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The Human Rights Law Network estimates that there were 1000 acid attack cases per year in India,
however, only around 250 cases are reported. This article tries to analyze why the law and order of the
country failed to tackle acid attacks on women in India.
Acid attacks on women in India represent a sinister manifestation of gender-based violence, a complex
issue interwoven with societal, cultural, and legal challenges. In delving deeper into the reasons behind
these attacks, examining their impacts, and exploring preventive measures, we can better understand the multifaceted nature of this pervasive problem. This article explores the various facets of acid attacks in India, shedding light on the root causes, the aftermath, and the measures being taken to combat this gruesome crime. According to India’s National Crime Records Bureau data, there were more than 1,000 acid attack cases reported in the country between 2017 and 2021. The numbers fell from 249 attacks and 67 attempted attacks in 2019 to 176 attacks but 73 attempted attacks in 2021. But Vikas Scott, an activist and project manager at Make Love Not Scars, said that the real number was likely higher. “We see that on an average at least 200-300 cases are reported for acid attacks [per year], but the real figure is above 1,000 annually.”

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In India, 80 percent of the acid attacks target women, and independent agencies estimate that 60 percent go unreported, as many women are embarrassed and afraid to speak out against perpetrators – who in most cases are close to the victims. Survivors are also unlikely to pursue legal action due to pressure from family members. But when women such as Meena Khatoon gather the courage and demand accountability from their attackers, they are often failed by the system. Thirty-five-year-old Khatoon was attacked with acid by her husband and in-laws in 2011. A court had found her husband guilty and sentenced him to eight years in prison. But after only a year and a half in jail he was bailed out and has been free ever since. Today, Khatoon’s husband has moved on with his life, while for her every day remains a struggle. “I have no hope from the government,” she told FairPlanet. “The man who ruined my life is roaming freely. How can I lead a normal life?” One strong spurt of hot liquid on her face from a steel mug and a terrible burning sensation — that is all Nirupama remembers from an otherwise regular day in 2013. The acid attack melted her left ear and disfigured her face permanently, causing both physical and psychological scarring. What followed were 10 surgeries with more to come, innumerable hospital visits, and many rounds of the courts, which continue to this day. But the perpetrator, the stalker whom she identified as her former teacher, was released after a short three-month stint in jail. The acid that scarred her for life can still be freely and cheaply bought from the shelves of neighbourhood shops in her village of Kamargaon in Assam’s Darrang district. This is the story of most acid attack victims in India since the first recorded incident came to light in 1982. The National Crime Records Bureau’s (NCRB) data reveals that there has been no let up in the number of this gender-based crime — in 2011, there were 83 acid attacks; in 2021, it grew to 176 (albeit down from 249 in 2019).

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West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh consistently record the highest numbers of acid attacks, generally
accounting for nearly 50% of all cases in the country year on year. In 2021, 153 men were charge sheeted. Merely seven have been convicted. Many activists say the lack of cohesive legislation in regulating the sale of acids, and in ensuring punishment for perpetrators, is probably the chief reason for their misuse.
They give the example of Bangladesh, where acid attacks came down drastically after the government
brought in two laws dedicated to the control and prevention of this crime. The Bangladesh Acid Control
Act, 2002 and the first and second Acid Crime Prevention Acts, 2002 restrict the import and sale of acid in open markets. Once known as a country with the highest number of recorded acid attacks (496 in 2002), the number dropped to 70 in 10 years after the laws came into being, according to the non-profit Acid Survivors Trust International.

Stop acid attacks, Supreme Court tells government

Root Causes of Acid Attacks:
In India, deeply entrenched patriarchal norms perpetuate gender inequality, often leading to violent
reactions when women challenge traditional roles. Acid attacks can be triggered by perceived defiance,
rejection of advances, or resistance to oppressive societal norms. A study examining Indian news reports, which depict the motivation of attacks, suggests that 35% of these occurrences were a result of revenge on women for rejecting romantic, sexual, or marriage proposals. A study by the Nalanda University in 2019 showed that in the majority of cases, acid attack victims are women who have desisted persistent declarations of “love” or proposals of marriage. Many acid attacks are borne out of failed romantic relationships or instances of unrequited love. The assailants, often unable to cope with rejection or betrayal, resort to acid as a means of revenge and control. Societal ignorance and a lack of awareness about the devastating consequences of acid attacks contribute to their persistence. Education and awareness programs are crucial for dispelling myths, challenging stereotypes, and fostering empathy. Another primary causes of acid attack cases is the easily availability of acids in the market. People can easily procure it without much effort on their part from pharmacies, open-air markets, goldsmith shops, automobile repair shops, etc. Many people also use it as a common cleaning agent in their homes. Thus, it is easily obtainable. Apart from this, it is inexpensive also within the reach of common men. The unrestricted availability of corrosive acids for everyday purposes facilitates their misuse as weapons. Implementing stricter controls on the sale and distribution of acid is essential to curb this menace. Despite having laws to punish the offenders and putting regulations on acid selling, India fails to tackle acid attacks on women. Lack of severe punishment, loopholes in the existing laws, corrupt law enforcement, and legal justice system, persisting misogyny and sexism, and toxic culture enforcing male masculinity are some of the main reasons why India has not been successful to prevent acid attacks.Govt plans multiple benefits for India's acid-attack victims

Impact of Acid Attack:
Acid attacks result in severe physical trauma, causing burns, disfigurement, and, in some cases, blindness. Survivors often require multiple surgeries, enduring excruciating pain and long periods of rehabilitation. Beyond the physical scars, survivors grapple with profound psychological trauma, experiencing anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The emotional toll can hinder their ability to reintegrate into society. The effects of acid attack on the skin include blindness and permanent scars. It is immediate and often devastating. But scars aren’t just physical, and violence of this kind, and the consequent disfigurement, also causes psychological scars that manifest in the forms of PTSD, loss of self-identity, and more. Acid attack survivors often face societal stigma, discrimination, and isolation. The visible scars make it challenging for them to find employment, secure relationships, or lead a normal life, exacerbating their sense of vulnerability. The aftermath of acid attacks imposes significant economic burdens on survivors. High medical expenses, coupled with limited employment opportunities, create financial hardships, perpetuating a cycle of disadvantage. Acid attack survivors face life-long ordeals and more often than not don’t receive justice.

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Many cases are not reported, especially when the perpetrators are from influential backgrounds or related to the victims. Sometimes perpetrators of acid attacks do not disappear after the crime, they stalk and intimidate their victims long after the attack. Victims from marginalized communities or living in rural or remote areas are often not aware of their rights. They don’t have access to the proper medical and legal support and are often denied legal and medical justice. Government health centers or hospitals in remote areas are not equipped to deal with severe burn injuries of acid-attack victims. As a result, they do not receive immediate medical attention and suffer irreversible physical damage, disfiguration, blindness, or death. Expensive reconstructive surgeries and lifelong treatment needed by many survivors are not covered by the Government. The legal process is very slow in India. The average time for legal action to be completed is around 5-10 years. High levels of corruption within law enforcement and justice systems make it really challenging to receive justice.Acid Attack Survivor Laxmi Now Turns Mother

Preventive Measures:

Strengthening the legal framework is crucial. Stricter penalties for perpetrators, swift justice, and witness protection measures can act as deterrents. Additionally, effective implementation of existing laws is imperative for combating impunity. Comprehensive education programs targeting schools, communities, and law enforcement agencies can contribute to changing societal attitudes. Emphasizing gender equality, consent, and respect in educational curricula can foster a culture of empathy and understanding.

India needs to begin to dismantle and change ideas at a cultural level. Many of these attacks have
demonstrated that misogyny and sexism are at the core of this violent crime. Therefore, prevention lies
in changing ideas at a young age. Education is a crucial tool for changing ideas over time, it teaches both
boys and girls to respect each other as equals. It also encourages girls to be able to achieve the same as
boys can. The normalization of women in high positions such as leadership can help shift ideas at a cultural level and provide a safer future for women. Changing toxic male masculinity and misogyny needs a shift of culture and mindset. Controlling the sale of acid and enforcing regulations on its purchase can minimize its accessibility as a potential weapon. Retailers should be required to maintain detailed records of acid sales, and penalties for non-compliance should be strictly enforced.

“Douse the Flames of Hate: Join Hands to Extinguish Acid Attacks.”
“A World Without Burns: Ignite Change, Extinguish Acid Violence.”
“Turn the Tide: No More Acid Horrors, Only Healing Hopes.”
In December last year, a 17-year-old girl was attacked with acid by two men on a motorbike in broad
daylight in the capital. Since the attack, activists across the country are demanding a stricter ban on over the-counter sales of acid. In 2020, Shaheen Malik, an acid attack survivor and activist filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the Delhi High Court seeking a blanket ban on the sale of chemicals such as acid. “We want acid to be banned completely at least at retail shops, so that such crimes are stopped. A notice has been issued regarding the same but the government keeps asking for more time and nothing
important comes out of it,” Malik told FairPlanet. Malik runs the Brave Souls Foundation, an NGO that
offers legal advice and rehabilitation for survivors of acid attacks in New Delhi. Adequate rehabilitation services, including medical treatment, counseling, and vocational training, are essential for survivors. NGOs and support groups play a crucial role in providing a network of emotional and practical support.
Engaging communities in the prevention of acid attacks is essential. Community leaders, religious
institutions, and local influencers can play pivotal roles in promoting awareness and challenging harmful norms. In response to the rising incidents of acid attacks, the Indian government has enacted laws to address this menace. The Criminal Law Amendment Act in 2013 introduced stringent provisions, including higher penalties and compensation for victims. However, challenges persist in implementing and enforcing these laws effectively. Delayed justice, a lack of witness protection, and societal stigmatization often hinder the legal process.

Addressing acid attacks on women in India necessitates a holistic approach that transcends legal measures alone. By unraveling the complexities of the root causes, acknowledging the profound impacts on survivors, and implementing multifaceted preventive strategies, India can move towards a future where women are safeguarded from the horrific consequences of acid attacks. It requires collective efforts from society, government, and civil organizations to foster a culture of respect, equality, and zero tolerance for gender-based violence. The issue of acid attacks on women in India is a grave concern that demands urgent attention from all quarters of society. Efforts to combat this form of violence must include a comprehensive approach that addresses the root causes, strengthens the legal framework, and fosters a culture of respect and gender equality. By dismantling the patriarchal mindset and implementing effective measures, India can work towards creating a safer environment for women, free from the specter of acid attacks. Civil society, NGOs, and activists in India have been at the forefront of the battle against acid attacks. Various campaigns and initiatives aim to raise awareness, eliminate the stigma surrounding survivors, and provide support for their rehabilitation. Additionally, efforts to regulate the sale of acid and improve victim protection mechanisms are gaining momentum.

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