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Overview of Laws around Acid Attacks and stories of Acid attack survivors:

Feb. 27, 2024   •   Sneha, 2ND year student of LL.B. Professional course, Department of Law, Kurukshetra University, Kurukshetra

Student's Pen  

The Scars of Silence: Untold Stories of Acid Attack Survivors

Abstract:

Acid attacks, a brutal form of violence, leave devastating physical and psychological scars on victims, predominantly women. While practiced globally, India faces a significant challenge with these attacks, disproportionately impacting women.

Introduction:

Acid attacks, inflict excruciating pain, disfigurement, and lifelong trauma. Causing lifetime scars just for the sake of your ego, is not just a crime but an act against the humanity. Mental, physical and emotional damage that lives with the victims till there last breath cannot be compensated on any cost. In India, data suggests a decline in reported cases in recent years, experts believe underreporting remains significant, potentially reaching 60%. The biggest number of instances are often reported from states like Rajasthan, West Bengal, and Uttar Pradesh. Notably, Bengaluru topped the 2022 list of major cities. Women are disproportionately attacked, frequently as a result of interpersonal conflicts, retaliation, or rejection. Justice still eludes many victims in spite of tougher rules and regulations. The judicial system is drawn out and demanding, and the conviction rate is low (20% in 2021). In 2022, 202 reported acid attacks and 71 attempted attacks (NCRB data). In 2017-2021, Over 1,000 reported attacks (NCRB data). And unreported cases, estimated to be around 60% annually[1].

There are about 1,500 attacks worldwide each year, and based on data, it appears that men are more likely to carry out these acts out of embarrassment, loss of face, or lack of dignity. In many developing countries, especially in South Asia, the use of acid as a weapon has increased since the first acid assault was documented in India in 1982[2].

Legal Framework:

The Indian Penal Code (IPC) addresses acid attacks under various sections:

  • Section 326 (Grievous Hurt by Dangerous Weapons/Means): This section applies to any attack causing "grievous hurt" using a dangerous weapon or means, including acid. Punishment ranges from imprisonment for up to 10 years and a fine[3].
  • Section 326A (Voluntarily causing grievous hurt by use of acid etc.): This section specifically addresses acid attacks and prescribes stricter punishment - imprisonment for 10 years to life and a fine.
  • Section 354M (Stalking): This section can be invoked in cases where stalking precedes an acid attack, with imprisonment up to 3 years and a fine.

There are certain other laws as well.

The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005[4]: This Act provides protection to women from domestic violence, including acid attacks within a domestic relationship.

The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973: This code outlines procedures for investigation, trial, and punishment of crimes, including acid attacks.

The Poisons Act, 1919 and Rules, 2013: These regulate the sale and possession of acid, aiming to restrict access and prevent misuse.

Landmark Cases:

  • Laxmi vs. U.P. State (2013)[5]: This case led to stricter regulations on acid sale and compensation for victims.
  • State of Karnataka vs. Krishnappa (2016): This Supreme Court verdict emphasized the need for swift compensation and rehabilitation for survivors.

Support for Acid Attack Victims:

Since acid attack survivors confront particular difficulties, the government has launched a number of programs and efforts to offer aid and support. Established in 2013, the Nirbhaya Fund provides funding for activities related to rehabilitation, medical treatment, and victim compensation. Furthermore, groups put in a lot of effort to empower survivors by advocating for their rights, educating the public, and developing their skills. Survivors can get psychological, legal, and medical help from a number of groups, including Make Love Not Scars and Acid Survivors Trust International. Several government and NGO initiatives aim to improve the lives of survivors:

  • The Acid Survivors' Foundation India (ASFI)[6]: Provides medical, psychological, and legal aid.
  • The Acid Survivors and Disabled Persons Welfare Scheme (2016): This scheme provides medical, educational, and livelihood support to victims.
  • Sheroes Hangout: A cafe chain run by acid attack survivors.
  • Stop Acid Attacks campaign: Raises awareness and advocates for stricter laws.

Effectively curbing acid assaults in India remains a problem despite legal and institutional efforts. Attempts at prevention and rehabilitation are nevertheless hindered by cultural stigma, insufficient victim support services, and weaknesses in the enforcement system. A comprehensive strategy that includes public awareness campaigns, law enforcement sensitization, legislative reforms, and cooperation between public sector, business sector, and civil society organizations is needed to address these issues.

Scars turned flower: Success stories

Laxmi Agarwal:

It is really motivating to read about Laxmi Agarwal's transformation from victim of an acid assault to well-known activist and influencer. Laxmi, then fifteen years old, escaped a vicious acid assault at the hands of a rejected suitor. She endured severe mental and physical abuse, yet she refused to let her wounds define her. Later on, Laxmi rose to prominence in the battle against acid violence, pushing for improved rehabilitation programs, stronger legislation, and social reform. Her tenacity and activity attracted a lot of attention, which resulted in notable law changes and acknowledgement of her lobbying work. Laxmi is still empowering survivors today via her work and is a source of hope for a great number of people.

Reshma Qureshi:

International praise and appreciation have been shown for Reshma Qureshi's inspirational tale of survival and victory. At the age of seventeen in 2014, Reshma was attacked with acid by her brother-in-law. Reshma lost an eye and suffered significant facial deformities, yet she refused to cower in the dark. She set out on a mission to fight for justice for survivors and spread awareness of the horrifying effects of acid assault with unyielding tenacity. Reshma became a symbol of beauty, courage, and rebellion against social conventions as she walked the runways of major fashion events, such as New York Fashion Week, because to her activism and tenacity.

Sonali Mukherjee:

The life of Sonali Mukherjee is a tribute to her unyielding perseverance and strong spirit. When Sonali, then 17 years old, rebuffed three men's approaches, she was subjected to a vicious acid assault. She was terribly scarred, blind in both eyes, and in great agony as a result of the attack. Even after the unspeakable pain, Sonali resisted giving up. She had several operations and rehabilitation processes, all with the help of non-governmental organizations and her family. Sonali's incredible story of survival and recovery won her a lot of praise and sparked changes to Indian law to address acid attacks. She still fights tenaciously today to protect survivors' rights and stop other people from going through similar horrors.

These triumphant tales of acid attack survivors highlight the ability of resiliency, tenacity, and optimism to triumph despite hardship. Their bravery and tenacity not only win them praise but also serve as a catalyst for constructive social change, opening the door for a time when acid violence will never again be an issue.

Conclusion:

Acid attacks represent one of the most egregious forms of violence, causing profound physical and psychological harm to victims. In India, these heinous acts continue to inflict devastation on individuals, families, and communities. The fights against acid attacks requires a multipronged approach. Strengthening law enforcement, ensuring swift justice, and providing comprehensive victim support are crucial. Further public awareness campaigns and cultural shifts challenging gender inequality are also essential to eradicate this heinous crime.

Acid assaults have become alarmingly common in India, where the attackers are frequently driven by feelings of retaliation, envy, or unresolved grievances. In addition to suffering from severe burns, blindness, and other physical disabilities that are permanent, victims—who are primarily women and girls—also experience significant mental distress and social exclusion. The susceptibility of persons to such attacks is increased by the readily available acid, inadequate regulations, and social beliefs that support violence.

cover image source: https://www.lblaw.co.uk/blog/acid-now-listed-as-a-dangerous-weapon

References:

[1] https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/india/bengaluru-tops-in-acid-attacks-against-women-in-2022-ncrb-data/articleshow/105875569.cms?from=mdr

[2] https://ijcst.journals.yorku.ca/index.php/ijcst/article/download/39702/35950/0

[3] https://main.sci.gov.in/jonew/judis/33220.pdf

[4] https://www.tnsocialwelfare.tn.gov.in/en/social-legislations/protection-of-womens-from-domestic-violence-act

[5] https://oslsa.nic.in/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Laxmi_vs_Union_Of_India__Ors_on_10_April_2015.pdf

[6] https://aswwf.org/


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