Acid attacks: New law hikes punishment, but doesn’t help victims

New Delhi, April 7 (IANS) Four sisters, in their 20s, were injured when two men on a motorcycle sprayed acid on them with a pichkari or spray gun in Uttar Pradesh’s Shamli district on April 2. There is also 18-year-old Chanchal Paswan of Bihar, whose face is a mass of melted flesh after four men threw acid on her for boldly opposing their sexual harassment.

The assault on the four sisters occurred just after President Pranab Mukherjee signed into law the Criminal Law Amendment Bill – a stronger legislation to combat violence against women.

The law defines acid attack as a separate Indian Penal Code offence and proposes punishment of not less than 10 years to a maximum of life imprisonment for perpetrators and fine that could go up to Rs.10 lakh.

But activists are not happy.

They say the new law has only increased the punishment for perpetrators and does not have provisions to aid acid attack victims who have to live with not just the physical disfigurement but also psychological scars and social ostracisation.

They want a separate law to tackle the crime of acid attacks, including easy sale of nitric and sulphuric acid. Available for Rs.30 a bottle, corrosive acids are frequently used by men to attack young women.

“The new law makes no mention of concrete solutions such as insurance plan or long-term and proper medical care for the victims. It has only made acid attack a criminal offence. A few lakhs of money given by state governments and first aid will not be enough for the survivors of such attacks,” Alok Dixit, founder, Stop Acid Attacks (SAA) campaign, told IANS.

“They need a proper rehabilitation policy, such as specialised medical care for burns and elaborate plastic surgery. The government needs to bring in a separate law,” he added.

According to Acid Survivors Trust International, around 1,500 acid attacks are reported worldwide yearly.

Neighbouring countries like Bangladesh, Cambodia and Pakistan, which too report many acid attacks, have amended their laws to regulate the import, export, use and waste management of corrosive substances like acids.

In 2002 the Bangladesh government passed two acts, the Acid Control Act 2002 and the Acid Crime Prevention Acts 2002 (1st and 2nd Act), restricting import and sale of acid in open markets.

Among the provisions are locking up shops to prevent the sale of acid and banning transport engaged in carrying acid, temporary cancellation of acid selling licenses and capital punishment of the acid thrower and penalty of up to taka one lakh (approximately $1,709).

Acid attack incidents in Bangladesh, which peaked in 2002 with 496 cases reported, came down to 98 last year, according to the Acid Survivors Foundation.

Dixit said India has to go a long way to match even countries like Bangladesh.

“We still have a long way to go. Like Bangladesh and other countries, we have to pass laws regulating the availability of acid and other corrosive substances. As of now, only Tamil Nadu has promised to regulate sale of acid after two young women lost their lives,” Dixit said.

Two young victims of acid attacks – Vinodhini and Vidhya – died in Chennai in February. Both had acid thrown on them by spurned suitors.

“Acid attack victims need long-term reconstructive surgery.. the government must include this provision,” Farah Naqvi, a women rights activist, told IANS.

Stating that the new law has “nothing concrete” on acid attacks, Supreme Court lawyer Meenakshi Lekhi told IANS: “For long, the victims and activists have been demanding a stringent law. Though the new law specifies 10 years imprisonment and fine up to Rs.10 lakh, it does not specify anything about rehabilitation of the victims. Nothing concrete seems to have come out of this act.”

Lekhi stressed that said the new law should include stringent provisions akin to Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA a law against organised crime) for perpetrators of acid attacks.

“The accused should know that he can’t go scot-free by destroying a girl’s life,” she said.

The new law was passed in response to the widespread protests and outrage over the horrific gang-rape of a young woman in the capital last December. Besides stringent punishment for rape, it also includes punishment for stalking, voyeurism and acid attacks.

Aarti Shrivasatava, a Kanpur resident, got justice in 2009, nine years after she faced an acid attack. The case was taken up in a fast-track court after NGOs intervened. The court sentenced the accused to 10 years and slapped a fine of Rs.5 lakh.

Two other accused were awarded eight years imprisonment with a fine of Rs 2 lakh each.

Living with their horrifying burns is a traumatic daily existence for acid attack victims.

For Nadia Shanaz, 22, reconstructive surgery has not helped to remove the acid burn scars and it has left her mentally depressed.

“The new law will not help me practically. The cost of each surgery is exorbitant. It goes up to Rs.30 lakh. The compensation of Rs.10 lakh will not cover the cost of treatment and care. Already, I have spent around Rs.14 lakh. We need schemes like insurance plan and government jobs for the survivors,” Shanaz told IANS.

(Prathiba Raju can be contacted at [email protected])

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