The Novel Ways We Murder Women In India
NEW DELHI: In India, we fabricate novel ways to mutilate and murder our women. It usually starts from the womb. Then we sheepishly murder them when they are infants. If they are fortunate to survive the carnages of being a girl child, we pull them into cars, rape them and then nonchalantly toss them out on the road.
There’s another barbaric thing that we do. We throw acid on their faces and don’t kill them, but kill them. We push them into a transient phase of living dead. We gift them a life of torment and misery, we gift them hell right here on planet Earth.
The face burns, skin tissue corrodes, sometimes bones are dissolved, skull is usually deformed, ear cartilage is destroyed, eyelids are burned. Besides, respiratory problems, septicaemia, skin depigmentation, renal failure or death. And not forget, deep-absorbed psychological scars and social ostracisation.
Yes, you can do this with a meagre Rs. 30 in your pocket and prowl around with bottles of sulfuric or nitric acid and destroy the life of your foe.
We know your reasons are fitting. You are a jilted lover, an alcoholic husband, dowry-famished in-laws, your honour or pride is at stake or you are fighting for your ancestral property. Agreeable reasons.
And what does our law have for you?
Section 326A of the Indian Penal Code saves for you a punishment of not less than 10 years to a maximum of life imprisonment and a fine that could go up to Rs.10 lakh. 10 years and Rs. 10 lakh.
That is the trifling price you have to pay for obliterating someone’s body and soul.
COUNTRY OF ACID ATTACKS
India has come to be known as ‘the country of acid attacks’, a tag it has possessed among myriad other undesirable, disgraceful tags.
Our country records more than 100 cases of acid attack every year, which is an underestimation since many cases do not even figure in police records.
With sulfuric, nitric and hydrochloric acid effortlessly available off the shelves of a grocer for a red cent, the cases are but an ‘easy way’ of retribution for the general patriarchal, male ego-boosting attitudes lurking at every corner of our country.
It is not just women who are victims to this nefarious crime. Meet Atif Bilal from Bhopal. His only mistake was that he fell in love. He met a girl on Facebook and eventually started dating her. She kept coercing him to get married but Atif had bright dreams in his eyes. Only much later, he surfaced the fact that the girl was already married with three children. She had been conning Atif for reasons unknown. But when her husband found out, he along with his wife and brother attacked a defenceless Atif.
He lost his eyesight and dreams. “When I wake up in the morning, I don’t actually ever wake up, I have to go splash some water on my face, play a song on my phone to convince myself that I am alive,” he says.
According to Centre’s guidelines to the Supreme Court (SC), no one can purchase acid without submitting a photo ID. Also, shopkeepers who sell acid will have to obtain a licence to do the same.
But what about acid that you can trickle off from car batteries or that we use for cleaning toilets?
Even after SC orders, only Bihar, Jammu & Kashmir and Pudducherry have taken steps to frame rules to regulate the acid sale on the lines of the model rules framed by the central government.
Under IPC, acid attack is a non-bailable offence. But bail is a far fetched respite. Most assailants are not even caught at all.
Many victims do not get the monetary relief of Rs. 3 lakh (Rs. 1 lakh in the first 15 days of the incident) as guided by the SC to the state governments. Many victims do not receive any relief for the exorbitant reconstructive surgeries. Many victims have to fight for their compensation. The government has failed to provide employment to the victims who are generally shunned by our antediluvian society. With bleak laws, the government has failed to look intricately into the matter which requires imperative attention.
And so, with fragile laws and a laidback government, the cases are palpably escalating.
Are 10 years behind bars enough for this odious crime? Or a fine of Rs. 10 lakh? Or would photo ID’s prevent senseless lovers to find the otherwise ubiquitous acid?
The answer is NO.
In a country where we inundate streets with protests and marches when it comes to coarser laws for rapists, how can we not do the same for acid attack perpetrators? Why do cases of acid attack fail to catch our eye when they are as horrendous, if not more, as a rape. Why such discrimination between types of crimes against women?
We can take a cue from, if not developed nations then, underdeveloped countries like Bangladesh. The country witnessed a sharp dip in acid attack cases after stern laws and extreme punishments were enforced.
The Acid Offences Prevention Act 2002 and the Acid Control Act banned the open sale of acids, and imposed severe punishment , which included death penalty. Investigations have to be concluded within 30 days and the trial within 90 days.
MAKE LOVE NOT SCARS
Make Love Not Scars started out as a college project but trailed its way to metamorphose into a youth initiative that has come up to ‘uplift, rehabilitate and guide survivors of acid attack’. The organization has managed to raise immense awareness on the issue as well as funds for acid attack victims only through social media. Their first successful initiative, a victim by the name of Rekha, received funds close to Rs. 1 lakh and got treated in a private hospital.
Ria Sharma, the founder of the organization, says that the first thing they do when they start working with a victim is provide them with legal assistance and fetch compensation from the government. “These funds are what are primarily used for their treatment. In most cases the victims are not even aware of the fact that they are entitled to this money. Our role is also to try and get them this money and help them go about with it. We try and find lawyers to sponsor legal help, through which obtaining this money is our first priority in a fresh case,” she says.
On the topic of total retail ban on sale of acid, she says “We live in a community where even a traffic fine can be bought, what is acid? There is no difficulty in finding banned substances in India. “Where there is a will, there is a way” applies directly to our country.”
On their launch event in Delhi, the zest and positivity of the victims was the stealing grace. The victims were pampered into luxury and given makeovers by make-up artist Vidya Tikari.
The organization is in talks with hospitals where victims can be given free medical treatments. They also plan to modify the compensation scheme the amount of Rs. 3 lakh is unsubstantial when the victims need life-long medical attention.
So what do we need? Actual implementation of current laws, sterner laws for future including death penalty, free medical treatment by volunteer doctors/hospitals, ban on sale of retail acid, rehabilitation of victims, prompt monetary relief, employment generation by the government and acceptance and tolerance in society. Desperate times, desperate measures.
A group of young neighbourhood men in Dhanbad would stalk and harass 18-year-old Sonali Mukherjee whenever she left home. She snubbed their advances and they had vengeance on their minds. Acid was the solution.
We all know her story, an NCC cadet from Jharkhand who was scarred so gravely, both physically an mentally, that she appealed for euthanasia only to seize ogles around the globe and subsequently garnering funds that poured in from all corners, grasping a government job and appearing on Kaun Banega Crorepati! A story that is extraordinary to the brim. A story that is not a cinch to put into words. 11 years and 30 surgeries later, she sits with a disfigured face but soaring high positivity levels. “Be ready for any challenge. Don’t be scared,” she says. Her body is lacerated but her voice is rock solid. To say she is an inspiration is a disgrace to the word.
“You hold the acid that charred my dreams. You will hear and you will be told that the face you burned is the face I love now. You will hear about me in the darkness of confinement." said Laxmi, a "Stop Acid Attacks" campaigner in her first poem recalling the dreadfulness when at the age 16 her friend's brother hurled acid on her face when she refused his advances. She was honoured by US first lady Michelle Obama with nine other "extraordinary women" from 10 countries with the 2014 Secretary of State's International Women of Courage Award. Laxmi also found love. She met former journalist Alok Dixit during a campaign. 25-year-old Dixit quit his job and now runs the campaign with her.
Laxmi’s message is loud and clear to other victims, perpetrators and the rest of us. “The time will be burdened for you. Then you will know that I am alive, free and thriving and living my dreams."
(This article was originally published in The Citizen on 29 July 2014).