“In our country, despite having the most number of acid attack cases, there is no social protection, rehabilitation or medical treatment facilities for them.”
What is an acid attack?
Well, it is self explanatory. It is a form of extremely violent assault, which involves throwing acid or a similarly corrosive substance onto the body of another person “with the intention to disfigure, maim, torture, or kill.”
“We come from a time and race, where warriors were respected for scars on their faces and chests. We are now living in a social structure where girls who are scarred because of their ‘Firm NO’ are bound to live behind veils and walls. This needs to change and with an emergency. We do need to understand that every girl is equally in danger as long as we let our boys grow up into maniacal lovers. Lovers who feel jilted and get trapped and frustrated in the love of a body. We need to act before the definition of love changes here forever.”
What has led to a growing number of acid attacks on women is that the law to protect acid attack victims was weak, until it was amended recently. What is worse is victims if only disfigured are not even acknowledged as physically disabled, resulting in them losing out on jobs etc. reserved for the disabled which otherwise could have brought them some relief.
Majority of acid attack cases, or generally, most cases of violence are in the beginning, treated with great hue and cry, then they pass into the fade in oblivion. However, some remain etched in the public’s memory for a very long time. Three such cases that shook the masses’ very foundation are that of Sonali Mukherjee, Inderjit Kaur, and Laxmi.
Sonali Mukherjee, aged 17 in 2003, the captain of the NCC, the president of the Student Union and an Honours student, wishing to pursue a degree in sociology, had a bright academic future ahead of her. However, it was shortlived if nothing else. One of her suitors, whose advances she had rejected, decided to avenge his humiliation, accompanied by two other friends, by pouring Tezaab ( a harsh chemical to clean rusted tools ) on her face, when she was asleep. Leaving 70 percent burns on her skin, melting her eyelids, nose, mouth and ears, and leaving her partially deaf and almost blind, Sonali’s life had changed in a matter of seconds. “It felt like the light had gone out all of a sudden, and darkness had surrounded me on all sides. I had no hope, I didn’t know what to do”. She had to undergo 22 surgeries, and still needs 9 more, for her eyesight to be restored, and in order to pay for her treatment, Sonali’s father had to sell their ancestral land, her mother’s jewellery and a lot more. The acid attack on Sonali profoundly affected her whole family. Her mother went into depression, while her grandfather suffered a heart attack, causing his death. And her attackers? They were sentenced to nine-years in jail, but quickly managed to be released on bail. Sonali’s plea for euthanasia (which is still illegal in our country) was rejected in 2012, and that’s when she decided to use “a platform to air” her “grievances”. After winning ‘Kaun Banega Crorepati’ (the Indian version of ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire’), she confessed that she entered the contest for the money prize, which was desperately needed for the surgeries, and to raise awareness about the suffering of acid attack victims. Media exposure gave her the support that she needed to voice her views and express the pain that all such victims have to go through, and support flowed in from all quarters. Still fighting her legal battle for justice, and raising awareness among people, Sonali knows that, “you can buy highly concentrated chemicals like those used on me in most markets for less than 50 rupees a bottle. This is enough to ruin a woman’s life.”
Inderjit Kaur, a 24-year old from Punjab, has had to undergo six surgeries, has tried to commit suicide twice, and has rightly decided now, to fight for justice again. After his wedding proposal was turned down, Inderjit’s suitor threw acid on her face. Blind in one eye and her face disfigured, and spending over rupees 9 lakhs on reconstructive surgeries, her life changed forever. Always making public appearances with a veil, she talks about how the first lawyer her family hired never filed any case. The second, she says, tried to put pressure on them to strike a compromise with Manjit (the attacker), who allegedly made threatening calls from jail after his arrest. Her family says that raising more money for Inderjit’s treatment is almost impossible and the courts are their last hope.
Laxmi was 16 when an acquaintance threw acid on her face while she waited at a bus stop in New Delhi’s busy Khan Market in 2005, disfiguring her permanently. Her attacker, a friend’s 32-year old brother, planned the revenge after she refused to respond to his romantic advances.
( Laxmi : Earlier and Now )
She is one of the very brave examples of women who fight for justice and empowerment, and not hide in clams. “She became the standard-bearer in India for the movement to end acid attacks. She made repeated appearances on national television, gathered 27,000 signatures for a petition to curb acid sales, and took her cause to the Indian Supreme Court”. She continues to advocate on behalf of acid attack victims throughout India for increase in the compensations that victims receive, effective prosecution and prevention of such attacks, and for the rehabilitation of the survivors. Laxmi, a victim of acid attack and a standard-bearer for the movement to end acid attacks, has been selected by the US for the prestigious International Women of Courage Award. Laxmi received the award from US First Lady Michelle Obama at an awards ceremony at the State Department in Washington, on March 4, 2014.
‘Chhanv – an adobe for acid attack fighters’ was inaugurated on May 19, 2013 to provide a shelter home to acid attack survivors undergoing treatment in New Delhi. Located in Laxminagar, Delhi, it is first of its kind rehabilitation centre in the country. The centre is managed and run by acid attack fighters who have recovered with their true grit and thus, is a source of inspiration and motivation for many others, who are often deserted by the hypocritical society; in some cases even by their own families.
At a stall in Chennai, a woman named Rani makes and sells beautiful jewellery. A mother of three children, her husband attacked her with acid after she revolted against his affair with another woman, and decided to live separately. However, she makes no efforts to hide her scars. The market where her stall is, has brought together over 45 women support groups and Rani also takes some time off to counsel other victims of acid attack cases. Almost 15 years have passed, since the day her life has changed its face, quite literally so, but her husband has still not been punished. Her children, all of who are now married, take care of her, and her two regrets in life are – the fact that she has not received justice yet, and she can never wear the pretty earrings she makes.
Acid attacks have not decreased in our country. On the contrary India’s incidence rate of chemical assault has been increasing in the past decade, with a high 27 reported cases in 2010. And such attacks, and the victims, are usually stared at and looked down upon. Nor are their words taken seriously either. Simply because we live in a country where discrimination is routine.