Ashutosh Mishra

By Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: Odisha has reported 70 cases of acid attack between 2011 and 2019, according to an NGO engaged in helping acid attack survivors. Both government and the civil society need to take these statistics seriously because victims invariably are women, especially young women who are left with permanent scars on their bodies and psyche.

The Supreme Court has described acid attack as an "uncivilised and heartless crime" which does not deserve any clemency. The apex court had made this observation in a case where it had asked two convicts, who had already undergone five-year jail for throwing acid on a 19-year-old girl in 2004, to pay Rs 1.5 lakh each as additional compensation to the victim.

"A crime of this nature does not deserve any kind of clemency. This court cannot be oblivious of the situation that the victim must have suffered emotional distress which cannot be compensated either by sentencing the accused or by grant of any compensation," the bench had said while passing the order.

A worldwide phenomenon acid attack is seen as the most heinous form of gender-based violence against women. The aim of the perpetrator is not to kill the victim but to leave her with permanent physical and mental scars. It affects the whole personality of the victim.

Despite existence of laws and a ban on over the counter sale of acid, this horrific crime has been on the rise in India. Quite a number of victims have been young girls from Odisha which reported the first case of acid attack in 2000 when Poonam Singhal, a student of Women’s College in Bhawanipatna, was splash with corrosive liquid by a jilted lover. The backward Kalahandi district saw another young girl sharing Poonam’s fate last year when she was targeted by a man whose advances she had spurned repeatedly.

In 2015 the country reported 249 such cases of which 61 took place in Uttar Pradesh. Significantly most women being targeted are below 30 years of age, the period of early adulthood when women are maximally exposed to the male dominated society. Physical damage caused by these attacks can be repaired to an extent but there can be no compensation for the psychological damage. It destroys her identity and undermines her confidence.

Acid attack is an unpardonable crime considering its destructive impact on the life of the victims. Though the intervention of social organisations is fast changing our outlook in such matters and there are some exemplary cases of survivors getting married and leading normal lives, we need to fight this menace with all our might.

While laws should become more deterrent restrictions on the sale of acid should be made truly effective. The government needs to monitor the restrictions on a regular basis to ensure that no one oversteps the law and gets away with it.

While the victims should have free access to quality healthcare services it is the collective responsibility of the society to ensure that they lead normal lives. Counselling of survivors is a must and it is equally important to demolish orthodox and obnoxious sociocultural norms which justify violence against women.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)