In Kashmir, three people have been arrested for attacking a 24-year-old woman with acid on the evening of February 1 in Srinagar. Of them, a man had been stalking the girl for months and had threatened her several times through text messages. This had already been reported to the police which chose inaction. In a matter of a few hours, social activists along with groups of people gathered on the streets in protest, as they demanded justice for the acid-attack survivor. Meanwhile, the survivor was battling for life in the hospital. On the other hand, a section of society called his act the result of our deviation from religion.
One wonders, can a lag in religious education result in such a dehumanizing behavior? In other words, how difficult is it for anyone to understand that assaulting another individual is not only wrong but morally impermissible? A basic fact of living – should not be that difficult to make sense of. Yet this happens, again. It is no wonder, that even the religious heads who hold important positions of influence in the valley, chose silence in their sermons. In what can be termed as another brazen display of power on the surfing wave of patriarchy, this was the second such acid attack in Kashmir in the last four months. Previously, an 18-year-old was attacked on 5 October 2021 in the Shopian district of South Kashmir.
The people who express shock over this are the same people who participate in the events leading up to such incidents by not only defending patriarchy but articulating the same structures of inequality and oppression while endorsing the “boys will be boys” tagline. On the other hand, there are people who react on social media to this by appealing to not politicize the issue and to keep feminism at bay. One surely does little to realize that it is the same idea of keeping feminism at bay that allows such incidents to occur in the first place and lets people orchestrate such crimes and get away with it. As far as the cry to not politicize the issue is concerned, such acts, incidents, and ideas are in itself political enough, and not politicizing them does little to eliminate such crimes or help the survivors. If only, it aids the criminals. This is yet another case where not only the police authorities failed the survivor, the media and some social activists also did well in matching up to this insensitivity by repeatedly revealing the identity of the survivors without prior consent, decking the case as a spot for political tourism.
However, it is erroneous to look at such incidents as standalone crimes. We need to situate it in the larger structure of patriarchy and power, which sustains itself on the oppression of women and marginalized sections of society. The question at hand really is, what purpose does throwing acid on someone’s face, who turned down your proposal serve? The purpose of such attacks is to deface or injure another person in ways that are not only physical, but also psychological, social, and economic. The aim is not to kill the victim but to leave a permanent, indelible impact on the victim, physically as well psychologically. These are instances that should be understood through the template of domination and control, which is a direct fallout of the power equations that favor men in patriarchal set-ups.
On the other hand, this raises serious concerns about the easy availability of acids to anyone without authorization. That no one has so far taken seriously the idea of legislating the sale of acids is in itself a comment on the callousness of the governments so far when it comes to gender-based violence and crimes. Further, how effective will a regulation be if one is introduced is something that will need further debate, because in this case acid was procured through something as commonly visible as a car. How do we regulate this, remains an edgy terrain.
Further, in a region which reels under conflict fatigue, the confidence and trust in law enforcement agencies and judicial institutions is already low. In addition to that there is no legislative template that caters to the post-incident exigencies, like setting up of a one-roof redress and action points, which ensures everything from legal help, to shelter space to medical aid in one place. The helpline that was set up for reporting gender-based crimes has been running defunct in most of the districts in Kashmir and in places where it is functional, many people are not even aware that it exists. On the other hand, the speed for deliverance of justice is so dismal, that the family of the survivor is not only discouraged from filing a case but also struggles to follow-up the case and gives in to the social pressures that work to stigmatize the survivors.
Having said that, what more reminders do we need to be served in order to understand that each time we make women the target of our humor or jokes. Each time we go with the hota hai, chalta hai attitude, each time we cheer the likes of Kabir Singh in our movies, each time we try to shelve feminism by putting our society on some moral pedestal, we become the participants in the chain of events which culminate into acid attacks such as these, for instance. Perhaps, when we gather on the streets to demand justice for the survivor, to call for regulation on the sale of acids, to seek monetary compensation from the state, it will do us good to also turn inwards and trace the causality of such incidents to ask why do such incidents happen in the first place? The post-crime anger might be more productive if matched with equal promptness in calling out the “little”, apparently “harmless” acts that add up and culminate into such assaults.
Farah Zaidee is a social activist and has a Master’s in Gender studies and is currently working as a public broadcaster and a show host at Doordarshan Kendra Srinagar.
Featured Image Credit: Sunidhi Kothari/Feminism In India