December 6, 2020

Is Law Placid On The Attack Of Acid?

He threw acid on her face, could not take away her grace. She still dreams high, after all external beauty is just a lie.

The recent release of a heart-rending movie ‘Chhapaak’ swayed me to write on this very important yet undervalued issue- The legality of the sale of acid in India and the laws related to acid attacks. Acid includes any substance which has acidic or corrosive character or burning nature that is capable of causing bodily injury leading to scars or disfigurement or temporary or permanent disablement. [1]Acid attack or vitriolage is a way of inflicting harm by throwing acid on one’s face or other body parts. It is generally done out of vengeance and to satisfy one’s ego thereby destroying the identity of the victim for lifetime. Acid attack is a crime which can be committed against any man or woman however in India mostly women are subjected to such attacks particularly young women for spurning suitors, for rejecting proposals of marriage, for denying dowry etc.[2]A small bottle of acid which can disfigure a person and cause everlasting agony to an individual is easily available for a cheap price of Rs. 20 or 30 even today. The amount of pain caused to the victim by such attacks is immeasurable its consequences being dissolution of eyes, nose, ears and bones. Sometimes the victim even suffers from complete loss of eyesight.

It was in the year 2013 when through the landmark case of Laxmi V. Union of India[3] acid attack was first recognized as a separate offence. Before this verdict of Supreme Court there was no ban on the sale of acid on counters as well as the compensation provided by the government was not sufficient. Two new sections i.e. Section 326-A and Section 326-B were inserted in Indian Penal Code, 1860 particularly for crimes related to acid attack. Section 326-A provides for minimum 10 years of imprisonment for acid attacks which can extend up to lifetime imprisonment with fine[4]. Directions were issued by supreme court to provide Rs 3,00,000 as compensation to acid attack survivors. Apart from this amendment was made in the code of criminal procedure, 1973 and Section 357-A was inserted to provide adequate compensation to acid attack survivors who have suffered loss or injury as a result of such attack.[5]

Section 357-C was also inserted in C.r.P.C as per which all hospitals both public and private run by central, state or local bodies should provide free first aid and medical treatment to acid attack victims.[6] But the harsh reality is public hospitals are not well- equipped to deal with such severe cases and free treatment in private hospitals is still a chimera except for few hospitals.

So, we do have certain laws but are these laws enough to deal with a horrendous crime such as acid attack? Are the number of Acid attacks decreasing? Well, the answer turns out be NO. There were 286 acid attacks in the year 2016, 254 in the year 2017 and 240 in the year 2018 as per the NCRB reports. Also, several acid attack cases are never filed and many others are subjugated by the powerful perpetrators.

Is the punishment enough?

Disfiguring a person for lifetime can never be compensated for imprisonment of 10yrs or any amount of money. Severe physical suffering and intense mental trauma has no comparison to a small bottle costing hardly Rs 20 or Rs.30. Stringent laws must be imposed and it must be ensured that they are executed properly so that no person ever even in their dreams think of committing such a terrible crime.

No doubt that acid is required for certain pharmaceutical and other activities such as mineral processing and its sale cannot be permanently terminated but it must then be ensured that acid is only available to licenced buyers. Safer substitutes of acid must be used. Acid attack has been a neglected issue and the girls facing such attacks are often looked down and shunned by the society. People hardly empathise with the amount of pain they go through throughout their lives. The face of a person is a part of their personality, their identity and its distortion often lead to lower self-worth and self-esteem. Acid attack survivors often face difficulty in getting a job. However, as per the recent Rights for person with disability act, 2016 acid attack has also been added as a disability under locomotor disability and therefore they get 1% reservation in jobs[7]. Apart from the laws we also need a change in the society. It is the fundamental duty of every citizen specified under Article 51A of the Constitution to renounce practices derogatory to the dignity of women[8]. Well we all fight for our rights, it’s now time to abide by our duties as well. The deeply ingrained misogynist attitude and the patriarchal mindset of the people needs to be altered. Only then we can ensure a safe and peaceful environment for the women of this country else no women would ever wish to be India’s daughter. Afterall a society which fails to respect and value the women of its country can set no good example for others. Let’s kill the devil within us before it ends up killing the humanity. Let’s ensure a safe and secure world for everyone.

[1] Indian Penal Code, 1860, §326B, The Criminal law Amendment Act, No. 13, Acts of Parliament, 2013 (India).

[2] Proposal for the inclusion of acid attacks as specific offences in the Indian Penal Code and a law for compensation for victims of crime, Law Commission of India, July 2008 at p. 3.

[3] Laxmi Vs. Union of India, (2014) 4 SCC 427.

[4] Indian Penal Code, 1860, §326A, The Criminal law Amendment Act, No. 13, Acts of Parliament, 2013 (India).

[5] Code Of Criminal Procedure,1973, §357A, No.5, Acts of Parliament, 2009 (India).

[6] Code Of Criminal Procedure,1973, §357C, No.5, Acts of Parliament, 2009 (India).

[7] Rights for person with disability act, 2016, §11, No.49, Acts of Parliament, 2016 (India).

[8] India Const. art. 51A, cl. e.

Author Details: Sampada Pande (Gujarat National Law University)

The views of the author are personal only. (if any)

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