Acid attacks: The legal angle

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“True Freedom is understanding that we have a choice in who and what we allow to have power over us”

  • Meryl Streep

Human Rights are requisite for any individual’s life and forms the basic part of living. They are inalienable and are inherently entitled to every human being.  They include right to life and liberty, freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of choice, and many more. Everyone is entitled to them without any bias.

Throwing of acid is one of the most distressful forms of crimes in the society. It is done not just against the body of an individual but against their freedom of choice and opinion. In Indian society, women are more vulnerable to acid attacks. The reason behind this is vengeance because of refusal of proposal, denial of dowry or other disputes. Such acid attacks are against the freedom of choice of a person and their basic human rights.

The problem lies not only with acid attacks but also with the behaviour against acid attack victims. They are treated as outcasts in the society and are always attached with a social stigma. This in turn leads to violation of their right to lead a life with liberty and basic human dignity. According to an acid attack survivor they are rejected in workplace and jobs because of their disfigured faces.

The consequences of these acid attacks affect the person and the family in many aspects. No one would ever be able to empathize with the pain of parent whose day would never go fine without seeing the face of his child. And now understand his grief that they have to face.

What is acid attack?

Acid Attack also known as Vitriolage is throwing of acid on the body of a person and disfiguring it. It is particularly thrown on the face of women. Acid attack is a very violent form of crime in which seeks to inflict physical as well a mental injury. It can be committed against any gender but it has a gender angle as well and most of the sufferers are women.

Acid attacks can lead to lifelong disfigurement of a body part which came in contact of the acid. It can also lead to burning of that certain area, damaging the tissues and sometimes even dissolving the bones.

Acid attacks are not completely recoverable. The intensity of damage depends upon the amount of acid thrown. In some cases the victim may not even survive. Those who survive have to undergo multiple surgeries to treat it. In instances of acid attack done on face , mainly eyes and lips are damaged and sometimes even ears and nose gets affected.

In acid attacks, the use of sulphuric acid, nitric acid and hydrochloric acid is common. The long term consequences of using this can lead to physical impairment and can affect the social life of a person. 

Legal provisions for acid attack:

Before 2013, acid attack was not regarded as a separate crime by the Indian Penal Code. Sections 326A and 326B were introduced into the Indian Penal Code by way of Criminal Law (Amendment Act) 2013 providing punishment for acid attack and attempted acid attack.

The offence is registered under Indian Penal Code section 320, 322, 325, 326, and 307. In the case of Laxmi v UOI, the SC passed an order to regulate the sale of acid in shops. In this case, compensation was given to the victim of an acid attack for the first time.

According to Section 326A of Indian Penal Code, “Whoever causes permanent or partial damage or deformity to, or burns or maims or disfigures or disables, any part or parts of the body of a person or causes grievous hurt by throwing acid on or by administering acid to that person, or by using any other means with the intention of causing or with the knowledge that he is likely to cause such injury or hurt, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which shall not be less than ten years but which may extend to imprisonment for life , and with fine

The Prevention of Acid Attacks and Rehabilitation of Acid Attack Victims Bill, 2017 has been enacted to provide for the prevention of acid attacks by restricting the sale, supply and use of acid or other steps and rehabilitation of women victims of acid attacks and related matter.

No person shall be allowed, according to this Bill to sell or supply acid to any person without documenting his identity, the quantity of acid and the reason for which the acid is to be used. With the issuance of government licenses, the purchase of acid can only be performed by people over the age of 18.

Compensation to the victims of acid attacks is also provided by the government under various schemes namely PMNRF, Central Government Victim Compensation Fund Scheme (CVCF), etc.

Why were the provisions introduced?

Acid attacks came in limelight with the case of Laxmi vs UOI. In 2005, Laxmi was attacked by a man whose marriage proposal was rejected by her. She was just 16 at that time. The two accused were sentenced to imprisonment of 10 and 7 years.

But Laxmi started a revolution and went to the apex court of India to regulate sale and distribution of acid. She also contended to provide guideline for rehabilitation of victims. This lead the Supreme Court and legislatures to make stringent laws and provisions against acid attacks in India.

A committee was also constituted in 2013 after the Nirbhaya case for suggesting reforms in the criminal Justice System dealing with matters of acid attacks. The J S Verma Committee discussed different crimes that prevail in society. This Committee focuses on an acid attack against women. They also made some recommendations about it.

Number of instances of acid attack

Very limited information on acid attacks in India is available but there is a growing trend in acid attack cases. Every year around 300 cases of acid attacks are being reported in India despite the existing laws. There used to be a time when acid was used for commercial purposes only and now it is used for destroying lives of people and that too in a cruel manner.

NRCB released a report in 2017 which stated that UP tops in case of acid attacks in India with 56 cases in 2017. A total of 244 cases were reported in the whole country. There are many unreported cases as well where victim dies with no information available about the same.

Apart from Laxmi’s case there were many cases which came into limelight and created sensations in the minds of people. The Supreme Court directed the state governments to look into these matters seriously and directed private hospitals to give good treatments to the victims in the case of Parivartan Kendra v UOI where two Bihar dalit girls were attacked by four men who threw acid on the girls’ face and bodies as they slept on their rooftops.

Conclusion

The plight in the Indian society is that we have become numb to everything. Things affect us for some time and then it gets vanished. The crime of acid attack is heinous and just regulating it with guidelines and laws won’t help. First of all we need more stringent laws to create deterrence in minds of people and then it essential to remove the social stigma attached to acid attack survivors.

Some time back, a cafe was opened in the city of Agra which was wholly managed by the survivors of acid attack. Reformers are also working towards providing a better future for acid attack victims. It becomes important to focus on the positive aspect and the changes that are taking place in the society but at the same time the growing figures of acid attacks cannot be ignored and there is a need for more competent and strong laws to put a stop on this heinous crime.

Author: Muskaan Jain from National Law University, Odisha.

Editor: Tamanna Gupta from RGNUL, Patiala.

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