The first time I saw the face of an acid attack victim in the newspapers, I was horrified. And I am shamed to say, a trifle repulsed. The image haunted me. It seared into my mind and juxtaposed against the before photograph of the victim, as pretty, fresh faced and young as a girl could be, I wondered about who in their right senses would disfigure her for life, and in such a cruel way.
Multiple operations had not restored her sight, her face was a crumpled open wound, she was confined to her home, and didn’t step out, the article read while the perpetrator of the attack was out of jail, married and leading a life as normal as possible. I don’t remember the details of this case, I had read this a long while back, but I do think, this seems to be typical of all cases of acid attacks. The victim has her life completely ruined, while the perpetrator goes on to live as normally as possible. Very often the victim is targeted because she has refused an advance, a marriage proposal or turned down a man.
This is what wikipedia says about acid attacks.
What happens when acid is thrown on a person—it makes the skin melt, exposing the bone, at times even dissolving the bone, it dissolves the eyes as well causing blindness. The disfigurement is something that requires many reconstructive surgeries and at times even that cannot bring the appearance to any semblance of the normal.
Mumbai based Shirin Juwaley had acid thrown on her by her husband, whom she had left when she was just 2 months into the marriage and barely 24. Excerpts from an article on her, “Shirin’s perpetrator still remains free, while she’s had to undergo surgery on her face 16 times.
And she says her face is still nowhere close to normal.
It’s not just the physical trauma that Shirin has had to overcome, but also the social stigma.
“It was so bad that when I would go for walks in the evening in my own building, children would get scared and run away from me. And people would just plaster themselves to the walls so that I can walk without touching them or without them touching me. It was quite horrific to go through these acts of rejection.”
Shirin now runs an NGO called Palash that helps acid attack survivors.”
And from NPR.org, this story about the brave Haseena Husain from Bangalore, an acid attack victim, who had her life changed forever in 1999 when she turned down a proposal for marriage from her former boss.
He took revenge in the most gruesome way possible, by pouring two liters of concentrated hydrochloric acid on her. She is now a worked with the Bangalore based Campaign and Struggle Against Acid Attacks on Women (CSAAAW) to fight the surge of acid violence against women. To quote from the NPR.org story,
Since 1999, the group has documented 61 such attacks. In the most recent case, a 22-year-old mother of four children was doused with acid and forced to drink a deadly concoction of a corrosive chemical and alcohol by her abusive husband in the city of Mysore.
CSAAAW has had some success in persuading the courts and police to take acid attacks more seriously. In a recent ruling, the sentence of Hussain’s attacker was increased from five years to 14. But even that measure of justice rings hollow to Hussain, who had burns over most of her body and lost her nose and eyesight.
In that ruling, the judge also demanded that the government set up a fund of about $250,000 to cover the costs of reconstructive surgery that many of these women need. Survivors of the attacks say that the fund is only enough to care for two women — far short of the needs of the more than 60 survivors.
Even with excellent medical care, the best that most of these women can hope for is survival. If not treated immediately, they can lose their eyesight and spiral into depression. Many commit suicide.
Acid violence seems to be almost unique to South Asia, with most incidents occurring in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. Part of the reason is that acid is cheap and widely available. Many Indians use concentrated acid to sterilize their kitchens and bathrooms, as Americans would use bleach.
But the problem affects more than just the women represented by the campaign. A number of politicians, including the wife of the former prime minister of India, have had acid thrown at them. It is also commonplace in mob violence. Popular televised serials and films reinforce the idea by repeatedly portraying acid attacks.
Perhaps the most dangerous thing about acid attacks is the fear that they create. With just a few rupees, anyone can buy a weapon that can ruin another person’s life in just a few seconds. For this reason, activists from CSAAAW will raise their voices until the government does something to regulate acid.
Acid attack victims, if they survive, are scarred not just physically, but also mentally, emotionally. They can never hope for a regular life, like other women, of marriage, children, because of their appearance. There are precious years wasted in recovery. There is social ostracism, isolation that will further deepen their scars.
Acid attack victims are regular women, women who, for no fault of theirs have had their lives completely ruined because of one man’s mania. Many young women don’t report stalkers and harassers to parents or the police because they are scared of being attacked by acid. Our films and media have too many depictions of acid attacks, which could prove inspirational for any crazed, spurned lover to run out and purchase a bottle.
Our laws aren’t effective enough to deter acid attacks. Mindsets aren’t changing. It isn’t a cause that many people would like to be associated with. Reconstructive surgeries are expensive and beyond the means of many of these women who are largely rural poor or middle class. We need laws on the easy availability of acid. For Rs 20, any maniac can make an innocent woman’s life a living hell.
Links: Acid Attacks and the Law: http://indialawyers.wordpress.com/2010/02/27/acid-attacks-and-the-law/