Acid attacks have been defined as a form of violence, in which acid or another corrosive substance is thrown at a person – usually a woman or a girl – with the intention of maiming, torturing or killing them(Action Aid, 2020). Women makeup 80% of acid attack victims making these types of attacks highly gendered and deeply rooted within misogyny. Acid attacks are prevalent all around the world, however, research has shown that occurrences are most notably in South Asia. The Human Rights Law Network estimates that there were 1000 acid attack cases per year in India, however, only around 250 cases are reported. This article tries to analyze why India fails to tackle acid attacks on women.
A study examining Indian news reports, which depict the motivation of attacks, suggests that 35% of these occurrences were as a result of revenge women for rejecting romantic, sexual, or marriage proposals. There could be many ways to explain and examine why these attacks happen, therefore we must look at wider explanations including cultural, situational, and personal reasons.
Cultural occurrences perhaps stem from deeply rooted sexism and misogyny within the society. For example, women experiencing a subjugated position in society and receiving less respect than their male counterparts. Gender inequality not only plays a role in cultural attacks but also class inequality can be significant.
Situational attacks may be influenced by the cost of acid, family education, or as demonstrated above family or land conflicts. Family-related attacks may lie within revenge, jealousy, or suspicion of infidelity.
Personal attacks may be due to the perpetrators’ history for example childhood trauma or poor anger management. However, it can also relate to male shame and the feeling of powerlessness regarding masculinity.
Acid attacks on women are most often committed by a person they already know. Many perpetrators responsible for harming victims, do not have the purpose to kill the victim but to disfigure them- aiming for the victim’s face. The aim to disfigure the women’s face is because a woman’s face is seen as sacred in many societies due to beauty being a large part of social acceptance into communities. The disfigurement of a woman’s face, therefore, has a catastrophic effect on her social life within communities.
The effects of acid attacks are devastating for the victims. They experience permanent physical damage, disfiguration, blindness, and even death. However, the effects can stretch much further than just physical and cause extreme psychological issues such as withdrawal, isolation, and depression. The visible scars and physical disfiguration reduces the chances for the victims to be accepted by society and family, being employed, or leading a normal life. The cost of immediate and long-term treatments and reconstructive surgeries add an additional, lifelong burden to the family of victims.
What has India Done So far to tackle it?
The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women was adopted by the United Nations on the 3rd of September 1981. The convention aims to protect women from “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual, or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life” (United Nations). This convention was ratified by India in 1993. However, India is still failing to protect women from this very violent form of discrimination against women.
The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013
It is really unfortunate that until 2013, India didn’t have any specific legislation for dealing with the horrific crime of acid attacks. In the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act. 2013, sections 326A and 326B were included specifically for dealing with acid attacks and sections 357B and 357C were inserted in the Section 357A of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) –
Regulation on acid Sales
In the same year, the Indian Central Government under the direction of the Supreme Court directed all states and union territories to regulate the selling of acid. The retailers are required to maintain a record of the buyers, declare the amount of acid being stocked to the police and any case of failure in doing so would lead to undeclared stock being confiscated and a fine, It has also barred anyone under the age of 18 from purchasing acids.
The Prevention of Acid Attacks and Rehabilitation of Acid Attack Victims Acts, 2017
In 2017, India revised its Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act and recognized acid attack victims as disabled. This would mean that acid attack victims could have more access and help with finding jobs. However, this law has not been implemented consistently among many states. Not only this, but many human rights activists have argued that the revised law is problematic. Acid attack victims have a unique trauma and this law does not individually consider acid attack victims’ experiences and therefore does not offer adequate support.
The Reality Faced By The Survivors
Acid attack survivors face life-long ordeal and more often than not don’t receive justice.
Many cases are not reported, especially when the perpetrators are from influential backgrounds or family members or relatives of the victims. Sometimes perpetrators of acid attacks do not just disappear and stalk and intimidate their victim long after the attack.
Victims from marginalized communities living in rural or remote areas are often not aware of their rights. They don’t have access to the proper medical and legal support that they need and are often denied legal and medical justice. Government health centers or hospitals in remote areas are not equipped to deal with severe burn injuries. As a result, many victims do not receive immediate medical attention, suffering irreversible physical damage, disfiguration, blindness, and death. Expensive reconstructive surgeries and lifelong treatment needed by many survivors are not covered by the Government.
The legal process is very slow in India. The average time taken for legal action to be completed is around 5-10 years. High levels of corruption within law-enforcement and justice systems make it really challenging for victims to receive justice. Many cases unfortunately do not lead to any justice for the survivor at all.
Social stigma and a tendency to alienate the survivors from society is another challenge all the survivors deal with. The government doesn’t ensure employment, education, or rehabilitation of the survivors. Moreover, prioritizing medical care, dealing with law-enforcement and the Indian judicial system gets a really challenging and lifelong struggle for the victims and families.
Why Acid Attacks Are On The Rise?
Despite having laws to punish the offenders and putting regulations on acid selling, cases of acid attack in India are on the rise. India fails to tackle acid attacks on women.
Lack of severe, stringent punishment and loopholes in the existing laws, corrupt law enforcement, and legal justice system, persisting misogyny and sexism, toxic culture enforcing male masculinity, and encouraging violence against women are some of the main reasons why India has not been successful to prevent acid attacks.
Acid is still easily available and used as an everyday cleaning agent ignoring the regulations and restrictions imposed by the government. The price of acid is also considerably low, often incredibly easy to get a hold of. Many retailers and small business owners have no knowledge of the rules of regulation on the sale and purchase of acid. The government clearly doesn’t care to take sufficient steps to control or track acid sales.
India’s failure to control acid attacks is a classic example of how mere implementation of laws without addressing the root causes can be ineffective in addressing any social issue. It is very important to consider how we can prevent acid attacks from happening in the first place. There are many factors that can be examined to prevent these violent attacks towards women. Research reports on underlying causes are essential for providing governments with evidence in order to implement change which will provide the right support and eliminate the inequalities that may be causing these violent attacks.
India needs to begin to dismantle and change ideas at a cultural level. Many of these attacks have demonstrated that misogyny and sexism is at the core of this violent crime. Therefore prevention lies within changing ideas at a young age. Education is a crucial tool for changing ideas over time, it teaches both boys and girls to respect each other as equals. It also encourages girls to be able to achieve the same as boys can. The normalization of women in high positions such as leadership can help shift ideas at a cultural level and provide a safer future for women. Changing toxic male masculinity and misogyny needs a shift of culture and mindset.
As discussed earlier, an acid attack does not just harm a victim physically but also heavily affects the survivor’s wellbeing. It is absolutely imperative that survivors are supported by mental health counselors who put the victim’s needs as a priority. Rebuilding victims’ lives is a long and complex process. Therefore, the right support must be provided.
NGOs supporting the acid attack survivors
Chhanv Foundation is a Non-Profit Organisation in India working for the rehabilitation of acid attack survivors followed by providing medical assistance, legal assistance, education help and employment.
Meer Foundation: Aside from providing holistic rehabilitation to the survivors, the Meer Foundation builds partnerships with other organizations to support the survivors, creates targeted awareness campaigns against acid attacks and conducts research.
Make Love Not Scars : Along with providing medical and legal aids, supports acid attack survivors to recover both psychologically and socially. Make Love Not Scars run several campaigns and awareness programs. They ran a campaign named #EndAcidSale, which called for a universal ban on acid sales. The campaign won numerous awards such as the Kyoorius Awards, a couple of Effies and multiple Cannes Film Festivals awards including a glass lion!. In 2017, Founder, Ria Sharma won the United Nations Bill and Melinda Gates GoalKeepers Global Goals Award, becoming the first Indian to receive the honor.