Trigger warning: This article contains text and visuals related to acid attack survivors.
“A bottle that costs just INR 30-40 ruins our life forever….”
These were the words of Ms. Daulat Bi Khan (Acid attack survivor) during a webinar held on March 10, 2022. She further said, “The liquid splashed on my face. It felt cold for a second, then burned. I screamed for water that didn’t work. It pained more. Burned more, felt horrible. I knew I needed the hospital. After several surgeries, I recovered physically with visible burns on the face. I lost my makeup artist job because people said that with the distorted looks, I could not serve the customers who came to beautify themselves. I approached a woman for a domestic helper job who screamed on seeing my face and told me to go away. It lowered my self-confidence to zero. My two sisters were victims too. The youngest sister was breastfeeding her baby, who received acid on his face and is now eleven years old. Currently, I run my grocery shop and face challenges daily, but those seven years of my life between the attack and starting my shop are lost.”
Personally, after emphasizing with Daulat, I got goosebumps wondering, “What if an acid attack happens to me?“
Understanding the heinous crime
Provisions were added to the Indian Penal Code, 1860, for this issue through the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013. In this, Explanation 1 of Section 326B defines an acid as “any substance which has acidic or corrosive character or burning nature, that is capable of causing bodily injury leading to scars or disfigurement or temporary or permanent disability.” These days sulphuric, hydrochloric, and nitric acid is easily available in the market. The local administration monitors the sale or purchase of acids, and any illegal activity is a non-bailable offense. For 2020, the number of acid attacks in India was reported as 182 by Statista. It is evident that many purchases go unreported, and acids become weapons of perpetrators. The culprits may be punished, imprisoned/ or fined, but the lives of survivors change permanently, and the probability of getting life back on track may be minimal. Supreme Court says that acid attacks are worse than murder.
Victims face social, psychological, and economic consequences
In the Jaunpur district of Uttar Pradesh, when a woman did a First Information Report (F.I.R.) over land issues, an acid attack was perpetrated on her on January 18, 2022. The woman was a mother of six children and lost her life two months later, in the month of March.
When acid is poured on a person, the victim’s surroundings are afire. Rehabilitation becomes difficult as cosmetic surgeries are expensive. There is permanent damage to the skin. Post that, unemployment, financial dependency, shattering of soul, and sometimes blindness occur to the survivor. All that’s one is left with is jerking aspirations.
World Health Organization has published ten life skills essential for dealing with the demands and challenges of daily life. They are self-awareness, empathy, critical thinking, creative thinking, decision making, problem-solving, effective communication, interpersonal relationship skills, coping with stress, and coping with emotions. We work around these life skills every day and try to improve them and acid attacks impact every aspect.
Schemes and policies for acid attack victims
The urgent help needed is provided by the relief funds of the Indian government. The National Legal Services Authority mentions the NALSA Scheme, 2016 for the same. The report titled ‘Compensation Scheme for Women Victims/Survivors of Sexual Assault/other Crimes – 2018’ also gives out directions for the same. The Supreme Court has also asked for free treatment and a minimum of three lacs compensation to be given to acid attack victims. Governments have also extended the amount to up to ten lacs as per the degree of damage, and the same is given to the family if the victim dies. The gravity and severity of the offence must be considered while giving compensation. As listed by National Commission For Women, the court has ordered that rehabilitation costs must be given within two months. Rupees one lac is given under Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund is given to female acid attack victims.
Some steps ahead but miles to go further
It is essential to choose the right legislators. For economic empowerment, there needs to be affirmative action. There are reservations for socially and economically backward classes and the trans community. On parallel lines, corporates must have a provision to hire acid attack survivors and assign their job roles as per their skill-level, educational and professional qualifications. Corporates may be given tax benefits by the Indian government to hire them. Individuals can visit cafes run by acid-attack survivors.
There must be an extra effort to model psychosocial development in people. A few suggestions are that we must talk about taboo issues, explain hormonal changes, explain that life ruins if we commit crimes, teach anger management skills, and have parenting classes.
However, all these are only minor steps, and society has a long way to go forward.
Featured image Source: theguardian