An Unending Pain
Acid attack survivors need long term support to meet ongoing treatment, education, and rehabilitation
Seventeen-year-old Mehvish (name changed on request) a resident of Kralchack village of South Kashmir's Shopian district has not left her home since October 5. That was the day her life changed forever after she was splashed with acid by a teenage boy.
She suffered horrific burns, and the pain continues to torment her both physically, and emotionally. Mehvish's family is already facing challenges as both her father and brother are physically challenged.
Mehvish recalls the day she was attacked, a friend had requested her to accompany her back home. "As she was opening the door, suddenly, someone threw a corrosive liquid on my face and arms. I fell to the ground, and cried inconsolably. I was in so much pain and screaming so much that I was not aware that I had even swallowed mud," she said.
Her screams alarmed her friend and neighbours who rushed to the spot. A teacher from her school came after some time and took Mehvish to the nearby health centre at Brathipora village of Shopian district.
She was shifted to SMHS (Shri Maharaja Hari Singh) hospital Srinagar where she underwent surgery and was admitted in the hospital. Mehvish's will power helped her survive the attack.
However her parents were not satisfied with the treatment given at SMHS and took her to the IBN SINA Hospital at Ompora in Budgam district. There she underwent six surgical procedures.
In Kashmir valley only four cases of acid attacks have been reported in the past decade, and in all four cases the accused were arrested. However, according to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) crimes against women in Jammu and Kashmir have risen by around 10% when compared to the previous year.
On February 1 in the Hawal area of Srinagar city, another 24-year-old girl became the victim of a gruesome acid attack. The attack was widely condemned by all sections of the society
According to an order issued by District Magistrate Srinagar, guidelines issued by the Supreme Court in the case of 'Laxmi versus Union of India' must be adhered to for selling or storage of acid.
In 2013, the Supreme Court in the case of Laxmi v. Union of India directed state governments and Union Territories to make appropriate rules for the sale of acid. It also directed the states to implement stringent norms for the retail sale of acid, treating it as a poison under the Poisons Act, 1919.
The Srinagar district administration order includes all these directions. In addition a surveillance task force had been directed to regulate the sale of acid and other corrosive substances in the district. In fact on February 8, the government conducted raids in various areas of Srinagar city and sealed 13 shops that reportedly were selling acid for not following guidelines.
According to rights' activist Saleha Sabroo, the trade of acid in the Kashmir Valley should be monitored frequently. Meanwhile Mehvish was given some assistance by the district administration. She was given a compensation of Rs 3 lakh as per the directions of the SC ruling. In addition civil society raised around Rs 12 lakh through crowdfunding to help pay for her emergency treatment.
However, for her family the trauma is unending. According to Mehvish's father the future looks dark for the entire family now' "she was my only 'normal' child and was so good looking. I had high hopes that she would help us escape from the clutches of poverty. But now we, along with her, are shattered as she always covers her face with her head-scarf," he said, adding that the teenager now just stays indoors.
He added that she has lost all her friends and he is worried about her ongoing treatment, "doctors said more surgeries are needed. That will cost around Rs 30 lakh". The father said he is unable to manage such a huge amount and appleaded that the government and non-governmental organisations come forward and help his daughter get the treatment she needs.
Mehvish is upset that her education has also suffered. "I had appeared in only one paper of 10th class annual exams before I was attacked with acid. My next eman was due in two days but I couldn't give it. I have almost lost all my friends after the incident. Rarely does anyone visit me. And I also never venture out of my home. I can not mingle with others due to my disfigured face," she said.
"I have nightmares of the incident. I do not know what the future holds. I had a dream to become a doctor and serve the poor people of our area," said Mehvish, adding she still wants to study, "so that I can be eligible for government jobs."
According to an NGO Mouj Kasheer that is based in Tengpora area of Srinagar they will initiate a crowdfunding for Mehvish so she can continue her treatment, the cost of which is likely to be much higher than the compensation she has been given by the authorities.
The Supreme Court of India in its order on the Parivartan Kendra vs Union of India case of Dalit sisters who were acid attack victims, the injury was so severe that their medical expenses were more than the Rs 5 lakhs compensation. The Supreme Court had then reportedly stated that the Rs 3 lakh compensation was the 'minimum'. It reportedly stated that the state governments could provide more compensation and take into consideration factors such as the severity of the injury, medical expenses, etc when determining the amount.
The Rights of Person with Disability Act, 2016, recognises acid attack victims as persons with a specified disability. This allows survivors to get a disability certificate. Those with benchmark disabilities, i.e. those who have 40% or more 'disfigurement', are entitled to reservations in government jobs. They are also entitled to other benefits under Chapters VI and VII of the Act, including free education for their children.
"I want to be an inspiration for others," said Mehvish who is holding on to the hope that her dream to be a doctor will still come true if the government helps her meet the medical and education expenses.