Acid Attacks – A Weapon Against Women

Shalini ( name changed to protect her identity) excited about starting her new job at the medical college. With the job market hard, it was an achievement that Shalini did not take lightly, facing many hardships she had finally earned the right to earn, gain independence and achieve a sense of identity. Her celebration was short lived. On her way to the medical college, a few men on bikes in a random act of cruelty threw acid on her face. Shalini’s neatly plaited hair fell, her clothes started dissolving , meshing with her skin. Immediately rushed to the hospital, doctors told Shalini that she had lost vision from one eye, and one ear. Due to wed in 8 days, Shalini never saw her wedding day, instead her life for the past 13 years has been an endless circle of visiting hospitals and courts to bring her perpetrators to justice. Shalini received no aid, no help and the perpatrators still roam free. Shalini still knocks on the doors of government officials, who promise her a job or justice, with no avail.

The story of Shalini’s not an exception to the rule, but the norm. The reality of potentially 1000 unaddressed victims of acid attacks in India. India has made international headlines for horrific rape cases in recent years, but acid attacks although common have received less attention. An estimated 250- 300 acid attacks reported in India every year, despite laws restricting the sale of acid or other deadly chemicals, and yet only marginal media attention. In 2016 India recorded 300 attacks, according to Acid Survivors Trust International, however many go unreported and could exceed 1000 incidents.

It is difficult to gauge the true scale and prevalence of the issue for a number of reasons. Victims of acid and burns violence often do not report the true cause of the injuries out of shame or fear. Challenges include not having a comprehensive national system for recording and monitoring burn injuries, focus of resources in urban areas and the social stigma and pressure not to come forward against perpetrators.

The use of acid throwing or vitriolage is a form of violent assault with the intention to torture, disfigure of kill, with the use of a corrosive substance. India not new to the heinous crime has had multiple occurrences making the practice of acid throwing all too common. Acid attacks were also used in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, where people were dragged from their houses and had acid thrown to their faces. Incidents have also been recorded of police in India to use on individuals, particularly on their eyes, causing blindness to the victims. However, the most affected demographic from acid throwing are women an girls. Violence against women and girls is the most widespread form of systematic abuse worldwide, affecting one third of all women in their lifetime. In India, a jilted lover, or a case of disputed dowry is too common a trigger for a perpetrator to attempt to take away a woman’s life.The victims of this atrocity deal with economic, social and unfathomable psychological trauma, and there has been little done to reverse their ordeal. Cost of recovery from these attacks are high, and often force the victim’s family into bankruptcy. Some victims are ostracized from their community and even their own immediate families. Harder to fathom is many of the victims are children, having not reached their adulthood, their first few lessons in life is that of the world being a cruel and unforgiving place.

Victims and activists suggest that the patriarchal mindset and a misguided lauding of machoism is root for the lack of inaction. In 1834, the Reformers Gazette published the hanging of Hugh Kennedy, for willfully and maliciously throwing vitriol on the face of an individual while he slept. However the same stern stance is not echoed in India. Fast forward to India in 1980, the village of Bhagalpur witnessed the blinding of 30 inmates through acid attack. One of the superintendent of police involved in this heinous act went on to serve as the MP in Bihar. Such unimaginable cruelty in a modern democracy is not only horrific but telling of the poor state of affairs that plague India when it comes to attacks associated with vitriolage Conviction rates for the perpetrators are low and many are freed on bail, while the victims life is impacted for the rest of their lives. Condemned to a lack of freedom to move around in the world without scrutiny, pity or scorn.