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The tragedy of acid attack victims

By Geetika Khurana

Edited by Nandita Singh, Senior Editor, The Indian Economist

“He said, you didn’t listen to me, now you will live your life like this,” recalls Haseena Hussain, a victim of a brutal acid attack by her ex-boss Joseph Adrigues who poured 1.5 liters of sulphuric acid on her when she quit her job in 1999. She got justice when he was imprisoned for life in 2006. The acid melted her face, fused her shoulder and neck, burnt a hole in her head, merged her fingers and blinded her for life.

“This takes away everything which is called being a human being,” she says.

Since 2006, nearly a thousand cases have been reported in India involving chemical agents and acids as per statistics with medical examiners. India is entering the hit-list of world’s highest attacks through acids today. “Most victims are women,” says Amit Seth, a doctor at a government hospital. His statement has again highlighted the nature of a highly patriarchal Indian society, where man considers himself to be the “owner” of women, where women are oppressed by so called “warrior” men, and where she is bound by the veil of obedience to her “brave heart” husband.

And now we bear the consequences of this obedience. Acid attacks usually don’t kill, but they always lead to severe injuries, continuous physical pain, economic struggle, social isolation, depression, excruciating pain and even permanent disfigurement of body parts as in Hassena’s case.

The act of maiming or marking the face of a woman is to treat her like an object, a “kathputli”, and a piece of private property. It makes her feel as if her life is ruined altogether, and she is forced to live a life of humiliation, despair and loss. “Many times I dream myself with my previous face, surrounded by my friends, family, and my ex- boyfriend,” says a victim.

If you examine the cases, two very basic things will surely come to mind. One, the easy availability of acid and chemical liquids to the offenders and second, the lax policies and behavior of our judicial system. The judiciary has neither forced a full-fledged uniform system of regulating the distribution of acid, nor has it facilitated the speedy settlement of grievances.

A one-liter bottle of acid, to say, is available easily by street vendors and even shopkeepers, and costs a mere thirty to forty rupees. This strengthens the possibility of the incident taking place by providing easy and legal accessibility to the weapon.  In the recent attack on a thirty-year-old doctor in New Delhi’s Rajouri Garden, the apex court rapped the government, “How is acid being sold? Police must crack down on this”. However, none of these instructions have affected the rampant sale, as would be otherwise expected. According to certain news agencies, acids are feely sold in the city, either directly or by retailers.

Coming to our second observation, regarding the lax policies of our system, there has been a very high degree of ineffective implementation on part of the Indian Government. “Nothing has been done so far after the February and July 2013 rulings,” says Sushma Verma, a trustee of the Campaign and struggle against acid attacks on women. The Supreme Court also decreed that the victim will be given $5000 as compensation within a fortnight. It’s been eight months after the attack of Simi Rao, a victim, but she has got nothing so far. The problem with the punishment for these attacks is that they come with minor sentences in the legal system, and even if punishments are given, they are not satisfactory.

“I will be in peace the day when there are zero cases of acid attacks in India, till then I will strive for women and help them recover,” says Haseena.

In February 2013 a landmark verdict laid down that all the acid attacks will be recorded as a separate offence under section 326A and 326B. Let us hope that this will lead to the speedy resolving of cases and bring justice to women.

Geetika khurana is currently a student of commerce at Shri Ram College Of Commerce, She loves reading novels, mainly thrillers. She has a keen interest in economics, is fond of debating and loves travelling. Passionate about writing, she believes it helps her to define and express herself.

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