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Acid Attacks: A burning issue in India

Acid Attacks: A burning issue in India
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Haroon Rashid

Acid attacks on women have become common and are considered to be the most offensive kind of violence committed on females. Cases on acid attacks are mounting, swelling and escalating like anything. The perpetrators do not realize the consequences of such menacing, ominous and looming attacks on innocent victims and throw acids on them, distorting their face, limbs and different parts of body.

It is high time now. Something stringent needs to be done to curb this evil in our society. Women constitute an important part in the society. They are responsible for giving birth to a life but unfortunately, they are made to lose their lives in the name of different brutalities committed against them.

Acid violence is an inhuman crime which can be viewed to mean the deliberate use of throwing premeditated acid to attack another human being. The National Human Rights Commission of India defined acid attack as “any act of throwing acid or using acid in any form on the victim with the intention of, or with 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”.

A study conducted by UNICEF reveals, “Acid attack is a serious problem all over the world, even children are becoming victims of acid Attack in many cases. In an Acid attack, acid is thrown at the face or body of the victim with deliberate intent to burn and disfigure.

Acid attack is defined as the act of throwing acid onto the body of a person “with the intention of injuring or disfiguring [them] out of jealousy or revenge. The most common types of acid utilized in these assaults include sulphuric, nitric, and hydrochloric acid. Attack through acid rarely kills but it causes severe physical, psychological and social scarring. The victims of acid violence are overwhelmingly women and attackers often target the head and face in order to maim, disfigure and Blind a person for life and push her in everlasting life of pain and apathy.

Factors behind acid attacks

The Law Commission of India in its 226th report has asserted that the majority of acid attack victims are women – particularly young women for spurning suitors, for rejecting proposals of marriage, for denying dowry etc. The attacker cannot bear the fact that he has been rejected and seeks to destroy the body of the woman who has dared to stand up to him.”

Effects of acid attacks

Acid has a devastating effect on the human body, often permanently blinding the victim. The being faces inability to do many everyday tasks such as working and even mothering are rendered extremely difficult if not impossible. Consequently the victim is faced with physical challenges, which require long term surgical treatment, as well as psychological challenges.

Besides they require in-depth intervention from psychologists and counselors at each stage of physical recovery. The victims are often left with no legal recourse, limited access to medical or psychological assistance and have no means to support themselves.

Acid eats through two layers of the skin, i.e. the fat and muscle underneath and sometimes not only eats through to the bone but even dissolve the bone. The deepness of injury totally depends on the strength of the acid and the duration of its contact with the skin. When thrown on a person’s face, acid rapidly eats into eyes, ears, nose and mouth.

Eyelids and lips may burn off completely. The nose sometimes melts, closing the nostrils, and ears shrivel up. Acid can quickly destroy the eyes, blinding the victim. Skin and bone on the skull, forehead, cheeks and chin may dissolve. When the acid splashes or drips over the neck, chest, back, arms or legs, it burns everywhere it touches. The biggest immediate danger for victims is breathing failure. Inhalation of acid vapors can create breathing problems in two ways:

1) By causing a poisonous reaction in the lungs.

2) By swelling the neck, which constricts the airway and strangles the victim.

When the burns from an acid attack heal, they form thick scars which pull the skin very tight and can cause disfigurements. For instance, eyelids may no longer close, the mouth May no longer open; and the chin becomes welded to the chest.

✒️PSYCHOLOGICAL – Acid assault survivors face many mental health issues upon recovery. Acid violence victims have been reported with higher levels of anxiety, depression, due to their appearance.

✒️ SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC – Acid attacks usually leave victims handicapped in some way, rendering them dependent on either their spouse or family for everyday activities, such as eating and running errands. They face a lifetime of discrimination from society and they become lonely. These dependencies are increased by the fact that many acid survivors are not able to find suitable work, due to impaired vision and physical handicapped. As a result, divorce, abandonment by husbands is common in the society.

Moreover, acid survivors who are single when attacked almost certainly become ostracized from society, effectively ruining marriage prospects. They are embarrassed that people may stare or laugh at them and may hesitate to leave their homes fearing an adverse reaction from the outside world.

Victims who were not married are not likely to get married and those victims who have got serious disabilities because of an attack, like blindness, will not find jobs and earn a living. Discrimination from other people, or disabilities such as blindness, makes it very Difficult for victims to fend for themselves and they become dependent on others for Food and money.

Brief view of India Penal Code (IPC)

In India, often incidences of acid attacks grab the headlines of Indian media. Unfortunately in India, there was no separate legislation to deal with acid attacks before the passing of The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act. 2013. The offence was registered under Sections 320, 322, 325, 326 and 307 of the Indian Penal Code (I.P.C Section 320 – Grievous hurt – The following kinds of hurt only are designated as “grievous”:-

Firstly-Emasculation

Secondly – Permanent privation of the sight of either eye.

Thirdly – Permanent privation of the hearing of either ear,

Fourthly – Privation of any member or joint.

Fifth – Destruction or permanent impairing of the powers of any member or joint.

Sixth – Permanent disfiguration of head or face.

Seventh – Fracture or dislocation of a bone or tooth

Eighth – Any hurt which endangers life or which causes the sufferer to be during the space of twenty days in severe bodily pain, or unable to follow his ordinary pursuits.

Section 322 – Voluntarily causing grievous hurt

Whoever voluntarily causes hurt, if the hurt which the intends to cause or knows himself to be likely to cause is grievous hurt, and if the hurt which he causes is grievous hurt, is said to “voluntarily to cause grievous hurt.

Explanation. – A person is not said voluntarily to cause grievous hurt except when he both causes grievous hurt and intends or knows himself to be likely to cause grievous hurt. But he is said voluntarily to cause grievous hurt, if intending or knowing he to be likely to cause grievous hurt of one kind; he actually causes grievous hurt of another kind.

Section 325 –Punishment for voluntarily causing grievous hurt

Whoever, except in the case provided for by section 335 (Voluntarily causing grievous hurt on provocation), voluntarily causes grievous hurt, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to seven years, and shall also be liable to fine.

Section 307– Attempt to murder– Whoever does any act with such intention or knowledge, and under such circumstances that, if he by that act caused death, he would be Guilty of murder, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which May extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine; and if hurt is caused to any person by Such act, the offender shall be liable either to imprisonment for life, or to such punishment as Is hereinbefore mentioned. Attempts by life convicts – When any person offending under this Section is under sentence of imprisonment for life, he may, if hurt is caused, be punished with Death.

On 2nd April 2013 the Indian Penal Code was amended with the passing of ‘The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013. The amendment resulted in insertion of Sections 326A and326B specifically for dealing with acid violence.

SECTION 326A states – Whoever causes permanent or partial damage or deformity to, or burns or maims or disfigures or disables, any part or parts of the body of a person or causes grievous hurt by throwing acid on or by administering acid to that person, or by using any other means with the intention of causing or with the knowledge that he is likely to cause such injury or hurt, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which shall not be less than ten years but which may extend to imprisonment for life, and With fine Provided that such fine shall be just and reasonable to meet the medical expenses of the treatment of the victim.Provided further that any fine imposed under this section shall be paid to the victim.

SECTION 326B states – Whoever throws or attempts to throw acid on any person or attempts to administer acid to any person, or attempts to use any other means, with the intention of causing permanent or partial damage or deformity or burns or maiming or Disfigurement or disability or grievous hurt to that person, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which shall not be less than five years but Which may extend to seven years, and shall also be liable to fine.

Compensation for acid attack

SECTION 357B has been newly inserted in CrPC which reads as:

“The compensation payable by the State Government under section 357A shall be in addition To the payment of fine to the victim under section 326A or section 376D of the Indian Penal Code.”

Free Medical treatment

SECTION 357 C has been newly inserted whereby all hospitals, public or private are required to provide first aid or medical treatment free of cost. The section reads as:

All hospitals, public or private, whether run by the Central Government, the State Government, local bodies or any other person, shall immediately, provide the first-aid or medical treatment, free of cost, to the victims of any offence covered under section 326A, 376, 376A, 376B, 376C, 376D or section 376E of the Indian Penal Code and shall Immediately inform the police of such incident.”

The position of women in India is very weak and feeble. Since ages, she has been made to suffer multitudinous and countless number of violence during her lifetime. Out of this incalculable number of violence, acid attack is considered to be the most horrendous and awful kind of violence where the woman is made to suffer its consequences badly.

Despite legal succors been incorporated, but they are not sufficient to deal with this heinous and monstrous crime where the life of the woman is devastated and wrecked within fraction of seconds and that too without any fault and slip up on their part. Although amendment in IPC has been made relating to acid attack, but much needs to be done to control this hazard and peril.

The offences relating to stalking and voyeurism which have been incorporated by the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, needs to be taken solemnly. In our country, it is usually seen that laws are enacted, but implementation has been a foremost problem. The guidelines which have been issued by the Supreme Court for regulating the sale of acid need effective implementation.

Regulations regarding sales of acids should be stringently and sternly executed and any gaps on part of authorities should lead to stern punitive measures. Exemplary reprimands should be there to have a deterrent effect. Apart from this, laws alone, even if they are there, won’t suffice until and unless the mentality of the people is altered and transformed.

(The author is student of Law at Kashmir University)


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