ACID ATTACKS

“I came to know that there are many acid attack victims in India after I got attacked, I had not even heard of acid attacks before,” said Reshma Qureshi, an acid attack survivor. There was a time when acid was used for cleaning and household purposes, but the work of acid has reformed its way and is used for heinous criminal activities. Acid throwing is the most vicious and ruthless form of crime in the Indian Society. India tops the chart when it comes to acid attacks.

According to the National Commission of India, an acid attack is “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”. It results in severe pain, permanent disfigurement, subsequent infections and often blindness in one or both eyes. All of which is followed by the psychological trauma caused by such attacks. There was no specific law made for such brutal acts. The cases pertaining to Acid attacks were tried under IPC Sections 322, 323, 320, 326 which was not so effective. Indian legal system was woefully inadequate to address acid attacks as it had neither sufficient provisions to punish (or deter) the crime nor adequate resources to compensate victims. But due to the broad and generalised nature of the laws the above mentioned laws were inadequate to encompass the nature of or facilitate convictions of perpetrators. Many cases of “Acid Attacks” stated piling up and this led to delay of justice. Punishment for these general crimes only prescribed an upper limit for imprisonment terms, which gave courts immense discretion to impose much lower prison terms, and the laws did not specify the fine or state whether the fine could be provided to an acid attack victim as compensation. This meant that some victims were not compensated at all (Awadesh Roy v. State of Jharkhand, 2006; Kaur, 2018), and when they were compensated, the amount was usually inadequate and inconsistent, sometimes as low as such as Rs. 5000 which is stated in the case named Ramesh Dey and Ors. v. State of West Bengal, 2006, Rs. 2000 in Balu v. State, 2004, 50,000 Mahadeva Madeva Shisthu v. The State of Karnataka, 2005. These sums were not nearly enough to cover a victim’s expenses for corrective surgeries and psychological counselling and created differences in judgements. 

Though the situation improved gradually after the suggestions made by the 226th Law Commission Report, Justice J.S Verma Committee and the 18th law commission of India report which was headed by Justice A.R. Lakshmanan. The criminal Amendment Act, 2013 was introduced based on the suggestion of the committee section 326A and 326B were inserted in the Indian Penal Code,1860 and section 114-B was added in the Indian Evidence Act, 1972 providing punishment for acid attack, attempted acid attack making it a separate, cognizable and non-bailable offence under IPC and certain presumptions in case of acid attack in favour of the victim. The provision in relation to acid attack were enhanced due to the landmark judgement of Laxmi vs Union of Indiawhere she the remedy she got was lesser than her medical expenses, excluding the trauma she would be forced to suffer throughout her life. Eventually, she decided to file a PIL by seeking a new law or amendment to the existing laws dealing with acid attacks, besides asking compensation for acid attack survivors. 

The supreme court, in this particular case came up with regulations relating to the sale and purchase of acid to regulate its easy availability. It made a regulation stating that while purchasing acid, one should show their photo-based identity card given by the government and they have to mention the purpose of buying it. The seller of the acid also has to submit that to the police action within three days. The Supreme Court directed all states and union territories to frame the guidelines to regulate the sale of acid. Following this judgment, the IPC recognized acid attacks as a crime under 326 A and 326 B. The Criminal Procedure Code was amended and sections 357 A and 357 B were inserted for the compensation of acid attack survivors. The Indian Evidence Act was amended, with section 114 B inserted as mentioned above. This case acted as a gamechanger. The Supreme Court in this case also held that three lakh rupees should be awarded as compensation to acid attack victims for aftercare and rehabilitation, of which one lakh must be paid within 15 days of the occurrence of the incident and the remaining 2 lakhs within two months thereafter. Though it was not mentioned whether  the compensation was fixed to only 3 lakh or whether a court could grant more compensation. This issue was elucidated by the Supreme Court of India in Parivartan Kendra v. Union of India (2015), in which it declared that the compensation was not restricted only to three lakh rupees and that the courts had discretion to award compensation greater than three lakh rupees.  

 

Additionally, the Constitution of India also contains provision for granting remedies and securing safe-guards against such heinous crime under the head of Fundamental Rights and DPSPs. Victims of acid attack face lifetime physical, social, psychological and economic consequences. It becomes difficult for the victims to work Thus, acid attack violates the right to life, right to employment and various other fundamental rights hence the protection is given under Article 12-35 of the Indian Constitution though it does not deal with it specifically. The National Commission for Women (NCW) in India is also taking up initiatives for rehabilitation and providing relief to acid attack victims. The organisation has proposed draft bill: “Prevention of offences (by Acids) Act, 2008” suggesting to set up National Acid Victim Assistance Board. Even after the law in place it stated that India has the highest number of incidents of acid attacks in the world. A country where the sale of acid over the counter was officially banned in 2013 – we still have too many cases. As per the data provided by the National Crime Records Bureau, acid attacks have been extensive in the last decade with shocking cases being reported from different parts of the country. Topping the list are states like Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Delhi, Odisha and Kerala. A total of 244 acid attack cases were recorded across the country in 2017 alone. Along with the NCRB report, even Indian Today data intelligence unit surveyed and found that between 2014 and 2018, there have been 1,483 victims of acid attacks in the country. The same was also confirmed by the NCRB. It is time and again noted that Uttar Pradesh (260), West Bengal (248) and Delhi (114) have been consistently ranking among the 10 worst states in term of acid attacks from 2014 to 2018. These three states alone make up 42 per cent of the victims of acid attacks in India during these five years. These figures include acid attacks as well as attempts to acid attack. 

 

It very shocking to hear though there is a sheer rise in cases, still the number of cases charge sheeted is very less. Moreover, a total of 596 acid attack cases were reported in 2017 and 2018, with 623 victims falling prey, but data shows that only 149 people were charge-sheeted in each year. This is almost or less than half the number of incidents in each year. The lowest number of cases (244) was reported in 2014, with 201 people charge-sheeted. In terms of trials and conviction, the year 2015 saw the highest number of cases that went for trial - 734. At first glance, the conviction rate of 45.4 per cent looks better than other crimes against women. But out of the 734 cases that went for trial, only 33 were completed. In 2016 and 2017, the conviction rate saw a decline with a total of 25 cases convicted out of 67 which completed trial, while a total of 849 cases were sent for trial in these two years. The year 2018 saw an upturn in conviction rate with a figure as high as 61 per cent, but out of 523 cases which went for trial, only 19 ended in conviction. This shows that there are many incidents happening out of which some are reported, and after filtering some are charge sheeted. Only some of them reach the trial stage and only around 1/4th of the cases result in conviction, this shows justice is denied in its true sense. 

 

 

It is very important to consider the acid attacks all over the global, not only India but countries like United Kingdom, Colombia, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Uganda and Cambodia. Acid attacks are very prevalent in the above mentioned countries. The Acid Survivors Trust International did a survey globally where it took into account everything that affects women disappointedly. The table below shows the acid attack rates worldwide in comparison to India. 

 

United Kingdom

Per capita the UK has one of the highest rates of recorded acid attacks in the world. In 2018, in London alone, corrosive substances were used in 310 crimes, compared to 456 in 2017, and so we have seen a substantial drop according to London Police Figures. Though, there still an increase in the acid attacks with 452 reported crimes in 2017 and 501 reported crimes in 2018. Additionally, The UK does not have tight controls on the sale of acid and nor does it have legislation specific to acid attacks. ASTI has campaigned for tighter controls on the sale of acid and a review of sentencing.

Colombia

Colombia has approximately 100 recorded attacks a year and with a population of around 48 million this makes attacks in Colombia one of the highest per capita. Perpetrators are overwhelmingly men, while victims are mostly women. In recent years Colombian legislators have passed laws to control sale of acid and increase punishment of perpetrators, anyone using any kind of “chemical agent” to physically harm another person will receive a minimum sentence of 12 years imprisonment. If the victim is permanently disfigured, the sentence will be up to 50 years.

Pakistan

In 2018 there were 57 notifications of corrosive attacks resulting in 80 victims. Acid throwing was made a crime against the state with an amendment to the Pakistani Penal Code in 2011 and can carry punishments of lifetime imprisonment. But the laws are hardly enforced. This lack of enforcement is mainly noticed in the rural areas. 

The Acid and Burns Crime Bill 2012 is a comprehensive legal mechanism that will complement the criminalisation of acid throwing.  A 50 per cent decline has been witnessed in acid crime cases across Pakistan since 2014 (153 reported attacks in that year). However the prevalence of acid attacks was stabilised in 2015 and 2016, according to the report which has been compiled by ASTI’s local partner Acid Survivors Foundation Pakistan.

Nepal

In Nepal, acid throwing is not very common, but there are a high number of burns cases caused by kerosene. The vast majority of victims are women. However, a recent maternal mortality and morbidity study highlights that suicide is the leading cause of death among women aged 15-49 (16%), compared with 10% in 1998 when it was the third most common cause. Of the 16% of deaths that are suicide, 50% are the result of burns violence through self-immolation (using kerosene), mostly after domestic violence. Harmful traditional practices such as the dowry system are also thought to be contributing factors. There is no specific legislation in place to outlaw acid and burns violence

Bangladesh

Attacks in Bangladesh peaked at around 400 in 2002. Almost 70% of victims are women and girls. A study of 90 victims of attacks in Bangladesh found that 80% of the attacks occurred in the victims’ homes .After much campaigning and media pressure from many organisations including Acid Survivors Foundation, with the support of ASTI, the Bangladesh Government introduced legislation in 2002 which includes control of sale, use and storage of acid. Attacks have now declined to under 100 per year.

Uganda

Funded by United Nations Trust Foundation (UNTF) ASTI in partnership with Acid Survivors Foundation Uganda (ASFU) produced a study which revealed that there were 382 victims of acid violence in Uganda between 1985 and May 2011. Of the 382 cases, the majority (58%) were recorded in the Central region of Uganda. Most recent reports have recorded around 35 acid attacks a year in Uganda however the real number could be a lot higher.

Cambodia

There was a sharp increase in number of recorded attacks in 2000 (40 attacks). Prior to this recorded attacks were in single figures. The Cambodian statistics may also under-represent the true number since many victims do not report the attacks or seek medical assistance. With its sister organisations in Uganda, Nepal and Cambodia, ASTI has supported them in key advocacy objectives as defined in the United Nations Trust Fund (UNTF)  supported project. The funding received from UNTF for the Cambodia Acid Survivor’s Charity (CASC) enabled them to dedicate resources to advocacy.  By January 2012 the first law on acid violence in Cambodia was ratified by the National Assembly, Senate, and King. 

In conclusion, The primary causes of growing incidence rates of acid attacks are India’s patriarchal culture and its inadequate legal system. Although the Supreme Court of India in Laxmi v. UO established new standards for restricting the sale of acids, they remain cheap and freely available because the guidelines set by the court are routinely violated. Even when acid attack cases are reported to police, many years pass before a final judgment is reached by the Indian Legal System. Furthermore, despite the Supreme Court’s guidelines regarding compensation, many acid attack victims do not receive compensation on time. In 2020, only 799 of 1273 victims received compensation (PTI, 2020). 

COMPENSATION SYSTEM IN INDIA

The compensation process is looked after by the guideline and provision laid down in the National Legal service Authority which is formed under the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987. The name of the scheme is “Legal Services to Victims of Acid Attacks, 2016”. 

The plan of action provided by the legal services to victims of acid attacks are divided into seven brackets the main ones are listed down below: 

1.     Legal representation: all victims of acid attacks which result in death, the heirs of victims of acid attack shall be provided with legal aid on a priority basis in order to enable them to get the benefit out of the victim compensation scheme. The state legal authority and the district legal authority shall ensure that the victims of acid attack do not have to face any kind of delay in procedural issues and interim compensation is awarded at the earliest. Legal representation shall be provided to victims of acid attack during the recording of their statement under section 164 of CRPC give it an evidence.

2.     Legal services clinics: the State legal service authority shall set up a legal service clinic at hospitals having specialised facilities for treatment of burns where victim of acid attacks may be referred for treatment the lawyers given by such legal service authority shall be in regular touch with the victims of acid attacks and their relatives and ensure all possible help to them in securing appropriate medical help and treatment. The paralegal volunteers shall provide assistance in support to the families of the victims of acid attack and counsel them for the trauma occasion by the incident of the sad attack. The volunteer shall ensure that the victims of acid attacks are able to avail various rehabilitative services that may be available for them. That the legal services shall ensure that action is taken against hospitals which deny treatment to victims of acid attack on superficial grounds. Opening of the legal service clinic shall be communicated to all the government bodies and departments including the police NGOs.

3.     Co-ordination: The State legal services already shall coordinate with the states and union territories to amend the respective victim compensation scheme to bring the same in line with the directions issued by the Supreme Court. The authority shall remain in touch with the concerned governmental agencies to ensure that adequate funds are always available for dispersal as compensation to victims of acid attacks. The state authority shall take up the matter with the concerned it’s in union territories for taking appropriate steps with regards to inclusion of the names of the victims of acid attacks under the disability list and thereafter to ensure that they get the benefit of all the schemes which are available for the person with a disability. 

COMPENSATION SCHEME 

What is the case of Laxmi versus union of India the Supreme Court directed that proper treatment, after-care and rehabilitation of the victims of acid attacks, a direction was issued by the order dated 10th of April 2015 to the state government/union territories to take up the matter with all the private hospitals to the effect that travel to hospital should not refuse treatment to victims of acid attack and that full treatment should be provided to such victims including medicines, food, bedding and reconstructive surgeries. It was also observed that the action may be taken against hospital or a clinic for refusal of treatment to victim of acid attacks.

As acid attack victim need to undergo a series of plastic surgeries and other corrective treatment the Supreme Court in its order dated 18th of July 2013 directed that the acid attack victims shall be paid compensation of at least three lakh by the concerned state government or union territory as the after-care rehabilitation cost, out of which the sum of one lakh would be paid to the victim within 15 days of the occurrence of such incident to facilitate immediate medical attention and expenses in this regard. Minimum of three lakh rupees should be made available to the each victim of acid attack. The members of secretaries of the State legal service authorities were also directed to give wide and adequate publicity in the state union territory to the victim compensation scheme so that each acid attack victim could take the benefit of victim compensation scheme. It was also directed that in case of any compensation claim made by the acid attack victim the matter would be taken up by the district legal service authority which would include the district judge and other such person who the district judge felt would be of assistance, particularly the district magistrate, the superintendent of police and the civil surgeon or the chief metropolitan officer of the district or the nominee and the said body would function as the criminal injuries compensation board for all purposes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Abha Singh, 5/11/2021 12:00:00 AM


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