Acid Attack: A Socio-Legal Perspective
Acid attack is a worldwide phenomenon which is considered to be one of the most heinous forms of violence. Approximately 1500 acid attack cases worldwide are recorded annually. Though an acid attack is a gender-neutral violence, a reasonable gender dimension could be drawn because of the gender-specific percentage of crimes and the reasons. Globally, 80 per cent of acid attack survivors are women/girls[i]. National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) data shows that 57 per cent of acid attack survivors are females in the year 2018[ii].
Acid violence is categorized as a form of gender-based violence because a gendered biased society always directly/indirectly encourages a sense of impunity among male perpetrators. Statistical data are based on cases that are reported, but the harsh reality is that most of such cases go unreported. Furthermore, even if cases are reported, most of them are not charge sheeted because of several reasons like lacuna in the investigation, lack of evidence (tempered evidence are included) and threats to the survivors for which cases are withdrawn. Unfortunately, the bitter truth is that unless and until the plights are highlighted by an influential media, and there is a public pressure behind, cases get the least attention.
The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women defines an acid attack as “any act or omission, caused by corrosive substance/acid to be thrown or administered in any form on the victim with the intention that such person is likely to cause to the other person permanent or partial damage/injury or deformity or disfigurement to any part of the body or organ or cause the death of such victim.”[iii] According to Draft Prevention of Offences (by Acids) Act 2008, “Acid attack means any act of throwing acid or using acid in any form on the victim with the intention of or with the knowledge that such person is likely to cause to the other person Permanent or partial damage or deformity or disfiguration to any part of the body of such person”[iv].
The violence of acid is generally committed with concentrated sulphuric acid, nitric acid or hydrofluoric acid because of their easy availability in markets. Causes of acid attack are many. Common ones are the rejection of any relationship/marriage, land/property/money disputes, domestic disputes, or patriarchal attitude.
An acid attack Survivor is affected not only physically but also mentally, socially and economically. The violence may lead to severe deformation of the skull, ears, eyes & nose. Hair loss, shrink skin, deafness, blindness is also suffered by survivors.
Psychological symptoms include depression, insomnia, fear of another attack, insecurity, fear/ shame to face outside world, lack of concentration and loneliness. Lack of concentration and their emotional state of mind results in loss of employment, lack of interest in education and unfavourable livelihood in many cases.
Survivors often suffer social stigmas, and on many occasions, they are blamed for the cause of such violence by family and society. Strange societal attitudes deprive them of living a healthy life.
Before the Criminal Amendment of 2013, there was no specific provision for the offence of acid attack under the Indian Penal Code. For the violence of the acid attack, general provisions of IPC like Hurt (Section 321- 323), Grievous hurt (Section 324- 326) and attempt to murder (Section 307) were applied. Proving attempt to murder in such matters was maximum and challenging punishment for grievous hurt was only seven years of imprisonment. By Act 13 of 2013, Section 326A and 326B were incorporated under the Indian Penal Code. Section 326A provides for voluntarily causing hurt by use of acid where the minimum punishment is ten years of imprisonment, and the maximum is life imprisonment with a fine. Section 326 B provides for voluntarily throwing or attempt to throw acid where punishment is imprisonment for not less than five years and which may extend to seven years along with a fine.
Laxmi v. Union of India, 2014 4 SCC 427[v]
In the year 2006, a 16-year-old acid attack survivor approached the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India with a writ petition wherein the Union of India, Law Commission of India and National Commission for Women were the respondents. The petition was based on the following issues—
· Amendment to the existing laws of the Indian Penal Code, Indian Evidence Act and Criminal Procedure Code for dealing with the offence.
· Compensation to the survivors of acid
· A complete ban on the sale of acid
· Rehabilitation of acid attack survivors
· Free treatment to acid attack survivors.
On the writ petition, Hon’ble Supreme Court in the year 2008 passed a direction for proper investigation of the matter. In the year 2013 Hon’ble Court issued specific directions regarding the sale of acid. The Chief Secretaries of each state were given the responsibility to implement the directions. As per the Order, Sale of acid is wholly prohibited unless the seller maintains a log/ register recording the sale of acid which will contain the details of the person(s) to whom acid(s) is/are sold and the quantity sold. The log/register shall contain the address of the person to whom it is sold. All sellers shall sell acid only after the buyer has shown: photo ID issued by the Government, which also has the address of the person. The reason/purpose of procuring acid should be specified. All stocks of acid must be declared by the seller with the concerned Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM) within 15 days. No acid shall be sold to any person who is below 18 years of age. For violation of any of the direction, a fine of Rs 50,000 would be imposed.
In the meantime Law Commission of India, respondent no 2, took a suo moto decision and proposed for the insertion of a specific provision in the Indian penal code and Indian Evidence Act related to acid attack. The Commission also proposed for Criminal Injuries Compensation Act which would provide for the interim and final compensation for the rehabilitation of the survivors. The Commission also proposed for the free medical treatments of the survivors in their recommendations.
Finally, all these proposals were incorporated under the Criminal Amendment of 2013. Provision for a victim compensation scheme was inserted u/s 357A of Criminal Procedure Code (Cr.Pc) and Free medical treatment to victims would be provided as per Section 357C of Cr.Pc.
Hon’ble Supreme Court further passed directions to each State and Union Territory to fix the compensation amount as a minimum of Rs 3 lakh rupees under the victim compensation scheme. Member Secretary of the State Legal Services Authorities was directed to obtain a copy of the Victim Compensation Scheme from the concerned State/Union Territory and to give it full and adequate publicity in the State/ Union Territory so that each acid attack victim in the States/ Union Territories can take the benefit of the Victim Compensation Scheme. Hon’ble Court further directed that each survivor should be entitled to free medical aid and further treatments as per Section 357 C of Cr.Pc and action would be taken for denying of any such facility.
The landmark decisions of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in Laxmi v. Union of India, 2014, 4 SCC 427 is considered to be a turning point as per the issue of acid attack is concerned. It is a harsh reality that acid attack is continuing in various parts of the country, due to the easy availability of acids everywhere. There is no proper monitoring over the sale of acids as per Supreme Court’s guidelines/ directions passed in the year 2013.
Surveys carried out in different states regarding the sale of acid show horrible results. India Today reported the shocking outcome of a survey conducted in Delhi by Campaign against Acid Attack in the year 2019. It was reported that the teams were able to buy two-three acid bottles from each of the 15 districts of Delhi and from the East Delhi region teams were able to buy nine bottles of acid. It was further revealed that a shopkeeper was ready to sale thirteen bottles of acid to a person when the Aadhar card was showed[vi]. This is the pathetic condition found in National Capital of Delhi even after six years of Hon’ble Supreme Court’s decision passed in 2013.
Even in other parts of the Country acid is readily available at a little cost. There is no proper implementation of the law as a result of which high risk to the society is being inflicted. It is a matter of grave concern which should be looked into and acted upon without any further delay. Attitudinal changes are an urgent requirement not only among the implementing agencies but also among the general population.
Disclaimer: Kindly note that the views and opinions expressed are of the author, and not Law Colloquy.
[i] https://theconversation.com/acid-attacks-are-on-the-rise-and-toxic-masculinity-is-the-cause-82115 [ii] https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/west-bengal-tops-in-2018-acid-attack-cases-ncrb/article30537254.ece [iii] http://journal.lawmantra.co.in/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/13.pdf [iv] https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3367773&download=yes [v] http://uphome.gov.in/writereaddata/Portal/Images/pdf/129-of-2016-10-4-2015.pdf [vi] https://www.indiatoday.in/mail-today/story/illegal-acid-sale-spikes-attacks-on-city-women-1555492-2019-06-25 #lawcolloquy #law #acidattack #acidservivour #victim #criminallaw