Over the last year, India has seen an alarming rise in acid attacks, particularly on women. Violence concerning acid attacks is a horrific crime particularly performed with the intent to disfigure or kill the individual who is subjected to the same. According to the National Commission of India, an acid assault can be defined as an act of throwing acid or employing acid through any form onto the victim having well the intent or the sufficient knowledge that such person is likely to cause permanent or partial harm, disfigurement or deformity to any portion of the victim’s body.
It can be undoubtedly said that when it comes to acid assaults, India tops the list. In a country where the selling of acid over the counter was outlawed in 2013, there are far too many incidents concerning acid attacks, the majority of which involved women being attacked as a part of for dowries or as a part of domestic violence. India tops the charts, at a hefty number of 249 acid attacks in 2019 and 182 acid attacks in 2020 and also, there have been almost 60 instances of alleged acid attack attempts in 2020.
The effects of acid attacks are long-lasting, not only are the survivors physically scarred but also impose severe trauma in addition to other psychological effects. It attempts to halt an individual’s life, they face difficulty in performing daily tasks, an embarrassment to venture out of their homes for school/college, or even office work as they are constantly exposed to glares from people around. The survivors of acid attacks despite trying to lead a normal life are often socially ostracized and subjected to isolation. They are disregarded by their family and friends and relatives or neighbours frequently make a mockery of their situation. They tend to be lonely and secluded. Society refuses to acknowledge and recognize them as regular people.
MEN AS VICTIMS OF ACID ATTACK
Instances of men being splattered with acid are frequently underreported simply because more women are victims of such a heinous crime. According to the National Crime Record Bureau, greater than 30-40% of victims subjected to acid attack are men. Although the number of male victims is lower, the consequences are no less severe. They experience the same physical and emotional anguish. Cases of acid attacks on men are rarely brought to light by NGOs or media. As a result, they tend not to receive an equal level of assistance and encouragement from others when compared to women. The social preconception is that exclusively women are victims of acid attacks. It was also highlighted by the Justice Verma Commission in the Law Commission report that discrimination persists not just in terms of compensation but also in trial courts, which tend to expedite acid attack cases against women while proceeding at a glacial pace in cases against men.
Supplementing, the same several individuals belonging to the LGBT community had also fallen victim to the same. As a result of being a minority, such cases are rarely brought to the forefront as a result of which they do not receive the adequate relaxation and compensation that they are entitled to.
SUPREME COURT JUDGEMENT: TO OFFER LEGAL REMEDY TO ACID ATTACK VICTIMS
The increasing number of acid attacks coupled with it affecting almost all genders, communities, and sections of society has most definitely become a burning issue of concern in India. What is even more shocking about this heinous crime is that the offenders can walk out on bail and even in some situations wherein such attacks even go unreported, while the victims continue to suffer for exhaustively long periods. Some are even never able to come out of the trauma and some also commit suicide. One such instance is the death of a 14-year-old Dalit Christian boy, Nitish Kumar, a class VIII student who had been fighting for life since getting soaked in acid by three men on a motorcycle on the 11th of August. The Police claimed his death to be a suicide as his family refused to pursue the matter legally. The family was also being threatened by the accused to not take any names and involve the police.
In addition to many NGOs and organizations supporting acid attack victims, even the law enforcement agencies are not lagging far behind. In the 2013 infamous landmark case of Laxmi vs Union of India and Ors, that the question to formulate specific laws on acid attacks as well as granting appropriate compensation to the victims. She filed a PIL for an amendment to the existing laws of IPC to curate laws that particularly deal with acid attacks as a form of crime. In this case, the Supreme Court issued restrictions governing the sale and purchase of acid to control the simple availability of the same. It had created a policy that while acquiring acid one must present their government-issued picture identification card and state the reason as to why they are purchasing it. It also mandated that all states and union territories develop norms to govern the sale of acid. Following this decision, the Supreme Court also made the acid attack and attempted acid attack an offense under Sections 326A and 326B of the IPC. In addition, the Criminal Procedure Code was revised to include Sections 357A and 357B to recompense acid attack victims.
LACUNA IN IMPLEMENTATION OF COMPENSATION SCHEMES WHICH LEADS TO THE INCORPORATION OF ACID ATTACK VICTIMS IN THE DISABILITY LIST
Despite the Supreme Court regularly concluding that the state has a commitment towards acid attack survivors and having issued detailed judgments requiring compensation to be paid. However, in practice, the concepts of equality and dignity are rarely realized.
Following this Laxmi case, there was another acid attack case in Bihar wherein two girls were viciously assaulted by attackers who splashed acid on their faces. The current case of Parivartan Kendra vs Union of India brought this by way of a Writ Petition to the light of the Supreme Court. The judgment sympathized with the victim’s disgrace as the family hurried to the hospital but had to wait until the next morning for the doctor to arrive. The victim’s treatment was shoddy and had to be sent to Delhi for further expensive procedures. The wounds were so grave that one of their hospital bills has already surpassed 5 lakhs at that time. Thus, the Supreme Court in the above-mentioned case held that the 3-lakh compensation mandated in Laxmi was only a minimum and the government could provide more compensation and should consider factors such as social, stigma, medical expenses, the likelihood of finding work, and the harshness of the injury while fixing the amount. The court thus criticized the negligent manner in which the Bihar Government and its enforcement agencies treated the acid attack victims and channeled all the States and Union Territories to incorporate acid attack victims in the disability list to grant them equal benefits. Eventually, the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act,2016 choose to view impairment from a societal, rather than a medical standpoint. It further went on to describe acid attack victims as those possessing a certain impairment or disability. This enables survivors to obtain a certificate of disability. Those with benchmark specified disability such as having 40% or more deformities are eligible for reservations in government positions.
This progressive judgment laid down by the Supreme Court can be classified as a boon on the administration as well as the Indian Legal System. Nonetheless, despite all of the Supreme Court’s decisions, compliance remains a major issue. Many survivors claim that funds supplied to them are less than 3 lakhs and are often subjected to irregular reductions. Public hospitals have inadequate patient care facilities while private hospitals are usually hesitant to admit such patients or facilitate care hurriedly, and refuse to provide treatment for free. While female acid attack survivors are protected by the victim compensation programs, male acid attack victims are frequently refused any compensation at all, although the Laxmi ruling well applies to them too. According to sources, the National Commission of India also stated out of 1,273 cases, full compensation has been supplied to only a mere 474 cases. The Supreme Court’s decisions as well as the rights granted by the Disabilities Act,2016 compel governments to make these rights widely known. The real application of such legislation is required to protect the legal, administrative, and fundamental rights of acid attack survivors.
Author’s Name: Aparna Mukherjee (Symbiosis Law School, Noida)
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