Even as the Supreme Court last week restricted sale of acid across the country, questions on compensation and rehabilitation of survivors remain unanswered for now.
The most common tool of stalkers and spurned suitors will no longer be within arm's reach. That is of course if the new rules are effectively enforced. Taking note of the rules drafted by the Union government, the Supreme Court on Thursday last week passed an interim order restricting the sale of acid.
The apex court was hearing a PIL filed in 2006 by an acid attack survivor Laxmi, and her advocate Aparna Bhat. The petitioners sought to curb over-the-counter-sale of the chemical that had aided men with unrequited "love" to terrorize women and inflict enormous damage to them.
Acid Attack Survivor Laxmi
Image Courtesy: Stop Acid Attacks
According to the Supreme Court’s directives henceforth no seller will be allowed to stock or sell acid without license. Buyers will be sold the chemical only after they show their government issued photo identity proof, and purpose of purchase. The seller will be obliged to record the sale details and submit them with the local police within three days along with disclosing all stocks to the local sub-divisional magistrate within 15 days. Failing to do so could lead to a fine of Rs. 50,000. No acid will be sold to anyone below 18 years of age. Also, only non-harmful form of acid will be available over the counter. In laboratories, hospitals and other institutions where acids are used, a person will be placed in-charge of storing acid, and of compulsory checking of students and personnel leaving the institution. In addition, the Supreme Court has also directed the state and union territory governments to pay Rs. 3 lakh as compensation to the acid attack survivors. One-third of the sum needs to be paid within 15 days of the attack, and the rest within two months.
“The good thing that has come out of it is the compensation,” says Alok Dixit, Founder, Stop Acid Attacks. “But that is for the girls who will be attacked in the future. The ones who have already been attacked are asking what has been done for them. They are still in darkness,” he said.
He also said that as the Union government was censured by the Supreme Court for its frivolousness in regard to acid attack victims, it had formed the guidelines in haste without conferring with the state and union territory governments, and without consulting acid attack survivors. He also expressed concern for rehabilitation of the survivors. “It is shocking that the criminal gets married, but the girl (acid attack survivor) doesn't even get a job,” he said.
Neighbouring countries Bangladesh and Pakistan, too, have reported a number of cases of acid attack over the years. The reasons, more often than not, have remained the same across borders – easy availability of acid, and a spurned “lover” who wants to 'teach a lesson' to the girl. The number of cases in Bangladesh came down sharply after sale of concentrated acid was restricted in 2002. In India, acids are available in neighbourhood provision stores at 10 or 15 rupees a litre.
“Contact with acid leads to chemical burns. It is the depth of the burns that determine the fatality,” said Dr. Nitin S. Walia, Dermatologist at Max Hospital. Severe chemical burns can cause disfigurement, tissue damage, infections, melting of nose and ears, or even bones, blindness and limb loss. In cases where the acid is accidentally swallowed by the victim, “the burns could go all the way down to the food pipe,” said Dr. Walia.
Accurate data on number of cases of acid attacks in the country is currently unavailable because all acid attack cases prior to the Criminal Amendment Act, 2013 were categorized under Section 320 -- acts causing "grievous hurt.” The 2013 amendment, for the first time, recognized acid attacks as a separate crime and brought in amendments A (acid attack) and B (attempt to acid attack) to Section 326. This Section contains punishment for voluntarily causing grievous hurt by dangerous weapons or means.
The 22-year-old Laxmi who has now become the face of the movement against acid attacks in India had started an online petition on change.org that has now gathered more than 28,000 signatures. She along with her team of campaigners went to meet Home Minister Shinde to submit the petition. “We waited for him for three hours, and when he came out he immediately walked towards his car. It was then that we stopped him and gave him our petition,” said Laxmi who joined Stop Acid Attacks as a supervisor two months ago.
The demand was to regulate sale of acid, and provide for medical treatment of the survivors. Laxmi who was attacked when she was 15 years old had initially sought treatment at Ram Manohar Lohia hospital. “Because it is a government hospital, you get a free doctor and a free bed. But the injections, medicines and surgeries cost you. It cost me 2.5 lakhs,” she said. Laxmi was later transferred to a private hospital. She had most of her surgeries between 2005 and 2009 which cost her 10 lakhs. She is awaiting further surgery before she could undergo a cosmetic surgery.
“Apart from regulating the sale of acid, the government needs to make sure that the victims get access to monetary help as quickly as possible,” said Jagmati Sangwan, vice-president, All India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA). “A job is crucial for the girl to regain her integrity because the effect of the attack is life long. It is difficult for her to survive in a patriarchal society. Therefore, government needs to be more supportive,” she said. Laxmi, too, believes that a government job is of extreme importance for acid attack survivors.
As an appeal to the society, Laxmi said, “Do not discriminate between boys and girls. The discrimination is responsible for ego in the boy, and when his ego is hurt, he goes around doing heinous acts. Change the environment at your home.”
The Supreme Court’s order will be implemented until state and union territory governments form their rules. Another hearing on the matter will be held in four months.
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