“Acid Attack Survivors are not victims but actual fighters” quoted by Laxmi Agarwal who is one of the Survivors of Acid Attack; which is undeniable materiality. The Acid Attack Survivors are deprived of living a normal life indeed they face constant tussle of survival for the rest of their life with apodictic disability and crippling depression due to social, economic, psychological etc., factors. Acid attacks rarely kill but it causes a severe effect on the physics and mental health of the victims. Our legal & medical systems have also proved very weak while dealing with such cases. As the world knows acid attacks are regarded as the most heinous crimes going on in society & as these crimes are increasing it is incumbent on the government to take rigorous measures & give harsher punishments to these obnoxious criminals. This paper chiefly focuses on the stumbling block faced by acid attack survivors – female victims and as well as male victims, the contemporary laws that weigh up the cases of acid attack & how the implementation of it takes place in reality.
Keywords: Acid Attack Survivors, Perpetrators, 226th Law Commission, Compensation for Victims, 326A & 326B, Disfigurements, Use of acid, District Legal Services Authorities (DLSA).
Acid Attack is a very disturbing & sensitive issue in our country and abroad too. Acid Attack is a most disgusting, brutal and evil act done by the perpetrators1 on the victims who die & the acid attack survivors2 too. It refers to a pernicious act of throwing acid on the body of the person with a devilish and filthy intention to torture, disfigure, or kill that person due to some piffle & brusque reasons of the perpetrators. In this day and age, it has become the mind-set of the people that only women and girls are the victim for this unpleasant attack; but in reality, men and boys have also become a patsy of acid attack. Acid attack is considered as the most heinous acts as the acid causes the burning & damaging of the skin tissue, often exposing & in more critical cases, dissolving their bones. The latest crime data for 2018 from the National Crime Bureau (NCRB) shows acid attack cases are constantly getting transferred or sitting in police files year after year. This is shown by the data; in Indian courts, 523 cases were slated for trial in 2018 which are up from 407 in 2016 & 442 in 2017. There are so many more cases of an acid attack that happen but never get filed especially in our hinterlands because in so many of these cases settlement happens outside the judiciary. Several other external factors like caste, class, power also came into play when registering such cases. Despite all this increasing number of cases & miseries formed in the life of the survivors the easy availability of acid over the counters of medical & nearby stores isn’t stopped indeed it is available in cheaper prices.
Brief History of Acid Attack
Around 300-500 cases are recorded each year in India & there were no separate statistics for acid violence cases until 2013. So to deal with it The 226th Law Commission report submitted its finding under the title, “The inclusion of Acid Attacks as Specific Offences in the IPC & a law for Compensation for Victims of Crime,” to the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India for its consideration in the well-known landmark case of Laxmi V. Union of India. The main motive of the report besides the increase in cases & conviction of accused under the charges of grievous hurt, attempt to murder or murder was to provide the victims with compensation, to alleviate their situation, enabling them the access to specialized medical treatments & plastic surgeries which are quite costly. By keeping in mind these aspects, The Law Commission of India proposed new sections, 326A & 326B3 to be added in IPC. With this amendment in the IPC in 2013 (The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013), incidents of acid attacks are now being recorded as a separate offence.
Survivors: Mental Health & Tussle in Living
People can be so blind to what others live by, such as beliefs, customs, etc. They can’t look deeply enough into the souls to understand that people are all different, they believe what they want to believe. It is easy to understand that the world has millions of different people, some black, some white and some acid attack survivors too but it’s not their fault in any of these cases still the people criticize & side corners them stating that they have an ugly appearance. Even those survivors have the heart to feel and a life to live further, but the crooked minds of the society make their living more depressing and awful by labelling them among the ugly ones and blaming them instead of the perpetrator.
Acid Attacks affects the life of the survivors at each and every stage of their remaining life. They have to suffer a lot to make a place in society. Along with the physical & psychological problems they also need to face the social & economic difficulties.
The most brutal tussle for the survivors is their physical health. The acid eats through two layers of the skin, i.e., the fat & muscle underneath & can also dissolve the bone. The most common types of acid used in these attacks are sulphuric and nitric acid. The burns they get due to acid couldn’t be even imagined until experienced, they are so intolerant. When the burns heal, they form thick scars which pull the skin very tight & can cause disfigurements.
The mental health of the survivors is distressed and they get depressed due to their appearance & self-consciousness, both in general & in social phase. Also, society makes them feel inferior due to their narrow-minded heads.
Acid attacks usually leave victims handicapped in some way, rendering them dependent on others for everyday activities & also they are not able to find suitable work, due to impaired vision. They are subjected to face lifetime discrimination from society & they become lonely. They are embarrassed that people may stare or laugh at them & may hesitate to leave their homes. Discrimination or disabilities makes it very difficult for victims to fend for themselves & they become dependent on others for food & money the whole life.
Implementation of Laws
Acid attack when happens it goes through three stages– 1) Treatment, 2) Criminal Proceedings & 3) Compensation. At the initial stage of the acid attack the victims of any offence covered under Sec. 326A, 376, 376A, 376B, 376C, 376D or 376 E of IPC, are required to provide immediately the first-aid or medical treatment (also includes the availability of medicines, bed, food & reconstructive surgeries; guidelines by SC), free of cost by all hospitals, public or private & should also immediately inform police under Section 357C, CrPC. After the treatment of the victims, FIR should be registered by the victim’s family, if that has not been done at the time of admitting the victim in the hospital, then it is the doctor’s responsibility to inform the police. The FIR will be registered under Section 326A Voluntarily causing grievous hurt by use of acid & Section 326B Voluntarily throwing or attempting to throw acid; the trials take place at fast track courts & are to be decided within 6months. The Apex Court held that in case of acid attack victims minimum compensation of Rs.3lakhs to be made available by District Legal Services Authorities (DLSA)4 to each victim. But the court expressed anguish & surprise that despite its direction in Laxmi V. Union of India, the minimum compensation of Rs.3 lakhs per acid attack victim has not fixed in some of the State/ Union Territories.
Landmark Cases & Guidelines Of The Supreme Court
A landmark case in the history of India, Laxmi V. Union of Indiai, Laxmi, who is as acid attack survivor filed a PIL in 2006, stating that a minor then Laxmi was attacked by three men in New Delhi as she refused to marry one of them named Naeem Khan aka Guddu. She faced a lot of trauma & physical pain due to such an attack on her, it was so devastating that after so many surgeries she could not get her face back as her upper body suffered a lot. The perpetrators were charged with attempt to murder & got convicted. Those who were convicted by the Delhi’s District Court later got bail from the High Court. This led to a surprise to the victim as granting of bail was not appropriate for such pain she has suffered. All this led to filling PIL by the victim which targeted at the easy availability of acid, no proper provision related to acid attack cases, including expenses, surgeries & rehabilitation for acid attack survivors.
The SC took a step to regulate the trading of acid by issuing the subsequent guidelines:
1. Guidelines for the Seller & Buyer- No acid should be sold to minor (under 18 years), the buyer has to produce photo identity card & mention the purpose for such purchase & seller should inform about this information to the nearest police station within 3 days. The seller has to submit the report of the stocks of acid to the Sub-divisional magistrate within 15days; also the Sub-divisional can confiscate the unreported stocks and impose fine up to 50,000 rupees.
2. Guidelines for research. Academic & other institutional purposes- The usage, purpose, quantity & other credentials have to be recorded in a register that shall be submitted to the Sub-divisional magistrate. There should be an authorized person for the safe handling of acid. The storage of acid will be under the scrutiny of a person. Entry & exit of every person shall be recorded.
3. Indian Penal Code– The court inserted Section 326A & 326 B which lays down punishment for acid attacks that is imprisonment for 10 years which may extend to life imprisonment & fine & attempt to acid attack that is imprisonment for 5 years which may extend to 7 years & shall also be liable to pay fine respectively.
4. Criminal Procedure Code– Insertion of Sections 357A which is the victim compensation scheme & 357B which is the Compensation to be in addition to a fine under Section 326A or Section 376D of IPC.
5. Indian Evidence Act– Insertion of Section 114B which states that an accomplice is unworthy of credit unless he is corroborated in material particulars.
Parivartan Kendra V. Union of Indiaii, This is another landmark case in the history of acid attack legislation of India. In this case, an 18-year-old girl named Chanchal was a Dalit living in a village in Bihar. She used to study computer science. Along with her studies, she also used to work as a daily wage worker. On her way to college, she used to get verbally & sexually harassed by four accused named Anil, Ghanshyam, Baadal, & Raja since one month from the incident which she ignored as no other option was available. She strongly opposed the harassment done by the accused & blatantly denied their illicit demands. One day while Chanchal & her sister were sleeping, the accused climbed on the roof of the victim & threw acid on Chanchal which spilled on her face & some parts of her body. The acid also affected some body parts of Chanchal’s sister as well. Their father on knowing this took both of them to hospital but doctors delayed the treatment which worsened the condition. Also he had to bear all the medical expenses which were beyond his capacity. Even after the incident police did not take action against the accused until pressure of media & people. The Supreme Court laid down that despite orders in Laxmi case, acid is still readily available; the State Government/ UT should take a stringent action regarding the supply of acid & stated that it was necessary to help the victim in rehabilitation, hence, the court allowed compensation of Rs.10 lakh for main victim Chanchal & Rs.3 lakhs for her sister to be paid within a period of 3months from the order.
“It’s not their fault”. The society makes a huge difference in the lives of the acid attack survivors by side cornering them, by discouraging them due to their appearance, by scapegoating them and by lots of mental trauma on their part. Those survivors shouldn’t be treated differently than normal peoples, as they are already facing their difficulties in every aspect of their life by being dependent on others. To all survivors, victims and their families; for their undying spirit and courage to fight; you are no different; keep on fighting for your rights until you get success.
i. 2014 SCC 4 427
ii. 2016 3 SCC 571