In a male chauvinistic world, woman is considered to be the property of man. Be it a spurned lover, a suspecting husband or a man who is shooed away when he wants a relationship, each feels humiliated and wants to take revenge against the woman. The easiest way to hurt the woman in such instances is throwing acid on her. It makes the man feel immensely and rather sadistically satisfied if the woman is disfigured. Experts believe that the foremost reasons behind this barbaric act are easy availability of acids and illiteracy among the masses. The overwhelming majority of the victims are women, and many of them are below 18 years of age. These attacks are often the result of family and land dispute, dowry demands or a desire for revenge. There are umpteen instances in history of how women were treated in times of war or conflict. With the advent of industrialization and inventions, acid has come handy to these egotists in their bid to disfigure women. Acid throwing could well be described as the attempt to control or subjugate women.
Victims of attacks not only undergo severe physical trauma but also traumatic changes in the way they feel and think. Psychological trauma is caused by both what the terror victims suffer during the attack, as they feel their skin burning away, and what they suffer after the attack with respect to the disfigurement or disabilities they have to live with for the rest of their lives. Victims suffer psychological symptoms such as depression, insomnia, nightmares, paranoia, and/or fear of facing the outside world, headaches, weakness and tiredness, difficulty in concentrating and remembering things, etc. They feel perpetually depressed, ashamed, worried and lonely. Usually, acid burn victims suffer severe psychological symptoms for years, if not forever, because they are constantly reminded of the violent act by their physical scars. The feeling of lack of hope and worth may never leave them.
Social and Economic Consequences
Acid burn victims face a lifetime of discrimination from society and they often become lonely. They are embarrassed as they think people may stare or laugh at them, and may hesitate to leave their homes fearing adverse reactions from the outside world. Victims who are not married are not likely to get married and those who have suffered 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.
It has, therefore, been argued that acid attacks need to be classified as a separate offence and harsher punishment needs to be prescribed. It has been further stated that the new law must include guidelines for handling/supporting victims economically, socially and psychologically, and provide compensation. In fact since acid is so readily available across the counter in medical and other stores, acid attacks are a relatively cheap and effective way of committing acts of violence against women. Buying hydrochloric acid is as easy and cheap as buying a bar of soap; a litre of acid costs anywhere between Rs. 16 and Rs. 25.
There is, however, no law to regulate acid sales except for the Manufacture, Storage and Import of Hazardous Chemicals Rules, 1989 (amended in 2000), and this only applies to industrial situations. Furthermore, there are no regular inspections and stock checking for acid sales as there are for explosives. It has been argued by some that controlling or regulating acid sales is an impossible task, as acid is used for many things including car batteries, etc. Thus, the deterrence should come in the form of stringent laws that punish the perpetrators. However, Bangladesh, a country with the highest incident rate of acid attacks, has passed a law in 2002 to control acid sales. Thus, acid violence can be tackled on both fronts simultaneously with harsher punishment on the perpetrator and control over the sale of acid to stop it from getting into the hands of criminals. International commerce of sulphuric acid is controlled under the United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, 1988, which lists sulphuric acid under Table II of the convention, as a chemical frequently used in the illicit manufacture of narcotic drugs or psychotropic substances.
Nitric or sulphuric acid has a catastrophic effect on human flesh. It causes the skin tissue to melt, often exposing the bones below the flesh, sometimes even dissolving the bone. When acid attacks the eyes, it damages them permanently. Many acid attacks survivors have lost the use of one or both eyes. But the scars left by acid are not just skin deep. In addition to the inevitable psychological trauma, some survivors also face social isolation and ostracism that further damage their self-esteem and seriously undermine their professional and personal futures. Women who have survived acid attacks have great difficulty in finding work and, if unmarried (as many victims tend to be), have very little chance of ever getting married. In a country like India this has serious social and economic consequences. The New York Times (Dec, 26, 2001) reports that kerosene as well as acid has fast become the weapons of choice for attacks on wives in India. The major victim of attacked is Women(47%) and Men(26%). Children(27%) could not escape from the attack. Sometimes domestic animals or birds are also victimized. The sad fact is that women who have been victimised by these attacks are mostly at the hands of someone known and close to them.
Referring to the compensation to acid victims, the Law Commission, headed by Justice A.R. Lakshmanan, quoted the landmark judgement of the Honourable High Court of Kerala in the State of Karnataka in the Jalahalli Police Station vs. Joseph Rodrigues case (decided on 22 August 2006) wherein the accused was convicted under Section 307 of the IPC and sentenced to imprisonment for life. A compensation of Rs. 2,00,000, in addition to the trial court fine of Rs. 3,00,000, was to be paid by the accused to the victim’s parents. The acid attack deeply scarred the victim’s physical appearance, changed the colour and appearance of her face and left her blind. However, in many cases throughout India, punishment often did not take into account the deliberate and gruesome nature of the attack but only rested on technicalities of injuries. It is apt to recall here that the Law Commission also proposed a law known as ‘Criminal Injuries Compensation Act’ to be enacted as a separate law by the government. This law intends to provide both interim and final monetary compensation to victims of certain acts of violence like rape, sexual assault, acid attacks, etc., and should provide for their medical and other expenses relating to rehabilitation, loss of earnings, etc. Any compensation already received by the victim can be taken into account while computing compensation under this Act.