Will India’s new acid attack laws reduce the number of acid attacks against women?
In July 2013, the Supreme Court of India announced various new regulations which are aimed at regulating the sale of acid; this is a move which is intended to reduce the number of acid attacks which take place in the country each year. As of now, it is estimated that over 1000 women are attacked with acid or other caustic substances in the country each year, resulting in permanent disfigurement, blindness, other health issues, and above all, an altered future which is not in line with their personal life plans.
The regulations have been framed under the Poisons Act 1919, and require licensed shopkeepers to undertake the sale of acid. The onus appears to be on the shopkeepers to ensure that identity proof, residential address, telephone number, and purpose of purchasing are provided by a customer, who is also required to be above the age of 18. The acid which is sold in retail outlets must be diluted so as to reduce its corrosive effect on people. Any undisclosed stock will be confiscated, and the seller is liable to be fined for up to INR 50,000. States have also been ordered to pay INR 3 lacs as rehabilitation and aftercare costs to the survivors of acid attacks, of which INR 1 lac will need to be given within 15 days of the incident, with the remaining amount being paid within two months.
While it is indeed encouraging to note the government’s interest, albeit very delayed, in the plight and rights of acid attack survivors, the voices of the survivors need to be heard. They are not satisfied with the regulations for various reasons. Archana Kumari, an acid attack survivor, sees the compensation amount as being “salt on our wounds”, as she has endured numerous financial hardships after being attacked. A minimum of INR 25 lacs are required for the most basic surgeries, all of which are carried out over the years. Another acid attack survivor, Sonali Mukherjee, feels that the use of acid itself should be banned, and points out that the substance is present in batteries, bikes, inverters are other places from which it can easily be procured and misused. For the family of Preeti Rathi, who died in June 2013, it is doubtful that the meagre financial offering will help her family, which had to shell out INR 60,000 to bring her body back to Mumbai, and has not even received the promised INR 2 lacs, due to the usual red tape mishaps which seem to puncture a hole in almost every administrative decision taken by this country and its government.
It is true that one should feel pleased and hopeful about the amendments being made; however, at a time when cases like the Delhi gang rape case and innumerable other reports of heinous crimes against women last in administrative and public conscience for as long as it is “breaking news” in the media, it is time to ponder as to where the problem really lies. It is not as much about “acid” attacks, as it is about a mentality which perpetuates violence against women in a bid to subdue them and “show them their place”. The legal developments therefore, are welcome, but not adequate.