Why are acid attacks on women perpetrated by gender-biased mentality? 

“On March 8, the world celebrates International Women’s Day, which calls for ending discrimination and ensuring equal rights for women. To organize voices, women across the globe take part in various actions and platforms. Biased thoughts are a curse that robs women of their human rights. In other words, we need to add our efforts and work inch by inch towards breaking bias and expanding sisterhood. So, for this occasion, the magazine is investigating the reason for the brutal crime against women – Acid Attack. The Lawyer, Author, Social Activist, and Co-founder of The Laxmi Foundation- Dr. Navpreet Kaur, who is closely working for women empowerment and the upliftment& social integration of acid attack survivors, underprivileged women, children, and various other weaker sections of the society, has provided many informative answers.

Read full talk and legal solutions for acid attack victims…

Acid attacks are attempted mainly on women, which speaks volumes about the gender-biased mentality behind them. Every survivor of acid attack or other gender-based violence is blamed for their condition. We need to break the bias and teach men to accept ‘no’ from women.

-Dr. Navpreet Kaur
Vice President
The Laxmi Foundation
Dr. Navpreet Kaur

Dr. Navpreet Kaur completed her Ph.D. in Laws in 2018 from Panjab University, Chandigarh, on the topic “Acid Attacks on the Women.” During this time, she met many acid attack victims, and she realized that these victims are battling with psychological, social, medical, and legal issues and that the help they were receiving from Government and other agencies was not enough. Thus, to help the acid attack victims-she joined a campaign “StopSaleAcid” with acid attack survivors against the free sale of acid and helped the acid attack survivors in their rehabilitation. The campaign created awareness and gained global support. Now, Dr. Navpreet Kaur is Vice-President of “the Laxmi Foundation,” – an NGO dedicated to acid attack survivors.

Dr. Navpreet Kaur is Chandigarh based Researcher/Campaigner / Social Worker; She is closely working for women empowerment and the upliftment& social integration of acid attack survivors, underprivileged women, children, and various other weaker sections of the society. The research papers written by Dr.Navpreet Kaur are published in various National and International journals and books. In addition, she has been invited as a speaker/Chairperson/Panelist/Judge by various National and International Colleges, Universities, and Departments.

Q-1. An acid attack is a hyper violent attack that destroys the body in many ways. But can we legally classify it as an attempt to murder? This question is related to case filing in the Police station. Also, which section of the Indian Penal Code aids victims of acid attacks?

Dr. Kaur: Acid attack is the most heinous form of violence against humanity. Acid attacks have horrendous physical, social, psychological, and economic effects on victims. But until 2013, the Indian Penal Code did not recognize acid attack as a separate offence and the crime of acid attack was registered under the sections 320, 322, 325 and 326, Indian Penal Code. Section 320, IPC, deals with grievous hurt, Section 322 deals with voluntarily causing grievous hurt, Section 325 provides punishment for voluntarily causing grievous hurt and Section 326 deals with voluntarily causing grievous hurt by dangerous weapons and means. Unfortunately, these sections were not sufficient to fulfill the requirements needed for the seriousness of these offences. Also, there were no special provisions dealing with the compensation and rehabilitation provided to the victims of acid attack prior to 2013.  Unfortunately, these sections were not sufficient to fulfill the requirements needed for the seriousness of these offences.

Later , the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 (Nirbhaya Act)  provided for amendment    of Indian Penal CodeIndian Evidence Act, and Code of Criminal   Procedure, 1973 on laws related to sexual offences and Acid Attacks . It was only after the said amendment that acid attacks become a separate offence and two sections, section 326 A which provides punishment for acid attacks and section 326 B which provides punishment for acid attacks, were included in Indian Penal Code. And the Criminal Procedure Code was amended to include provisions for compensation and medical treatment of acid attack victims under section 357 A, B and C. In cases where the acid attack lead to the death of the victim, courts have convicted the accused for the charge of murder under section 302 of IPC or sometimes, for the attempt to murder under Section 307 of IPC.

Q-2. What difficulties did you find while researching the issues related to acid attack, due to which it would be difficult for the victim to register her complaint?

Dr. Kaur: One of the major problems, I observed during my research on acid attacks is that of unreported cases. Because of problem of under reporting of Cases with the constant rise in acid attacks, it has become difficult to determine the exact extent and nature of crime against women accurately on the basis of cases reported to the police. Some poor girls never file FIR or take back the case due to family pressure, fear of threat to kill, ignorance, illiteracy, and numerous other reasons. Ruquyya, victim of Acid Attack never filed FIR against the person who attacked him. The only reason not to file a case was family pressure and lack of support. The perpetrator was her sister’s brother-in-law. So just to save her sister married life, she never filed a case against him. Another example is that of Madhu who was attacked by a stalker for rejecting his proposal. She also never filed any FIR. Again, the reason was lack of support. The family advised Madhu to ignore the act because she was a girl and girls are blamed even for men’s fault. So, they decided to hide the incident. When people asked her about the burns and scars on her face and body, family always gave a false answer that she was burnt due to exposure of stove accidently in the kitchen. Similarly, Garima’s case also went unreported because of backwardness, poverty, and ignorance.

Somewhere our criminal justice system is also not victim friendly and does not provide a comfortable environment to the victims.

Q-3. Today, acid attacks are reported in many parts of the world, though more commonly in developing countries. So, what kind of issues do you notice about growing acid attack cases in India?

Dr. Kaur: In India, acid attack is known as gender-based crime because almost 70 % of the cases of acid attacks are committed by men on women and the main reason of acid attack on women is Patriarchy.  Patriarchy and inequality are enrooted in the mind of our society. Men justify their act of disfiguring women that often springs from her refusal to reciprocate their love. They are not conditioned to hearing ‘No’ from a woman. The violence is the revenge caused by the intolerance of being rejected. As long as women did not gather the courage to say ‘No’, it was fine with society, women remained vulnerable and exploitable, and society could maintain its status quo. Despite all the education and sophistication, a woman’s confidence to reject a man’s ‘proposal’ is still the most ‘humiliating’ experience for a man. Historically, and even today, men have had jurisdiction over both the public sphere-political, economic, and cultural affairs and the private sphere of the home, whereas women were expected to involve themselves only with the private sphere of the home and the raising of children. Now the situation is changing in the term of women emancipation. Today, women are coming out as winners in every field of life; there is an increasing opposition and intolerance among men towards these achievements. Men due to their ego are not able to tolerate the success of women. They cannot tolerate their success and sometimes their ego become so dangerous that they hurt the women by throwing acid on her. There are number of cases where women suffer due to male ego. Recent such example in India is the case of Preeti Rathi, Delhi Resident, was attacked by her neighbor (Ankur) out of jealousy. Ankur was then unemployed, while Preeti had just got a job. Out of jealousy and anger, Ankur decided to disfigure her, and he attacked her in brutal manner by throwing acid on her. After battling for her life for a month, Rathi succumbed to her injuries.

Besides this, acid is very cheap to buy and easily available in India which is another major reason of such attacks.

Acid attacks have been documented in various parts of the world including Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Uganda, and UK. Although, such attacks occur throughout the world, but disproportionately in South Asian Countries. In India acid attacks are increasing, with 250–300 reported incidents every year. In Bangladesh, Over 2,600 cases have been reported since 1999 but with the introduction strict laws relating to acid violence Once known to be the country with the highest number of such attacks and the highest incident rates for women, it has since experienced a drastic drop in the frequency of acid assaults . The nature of the attacks does however vary among different communities globally depending on local cultural and societal behaviors. Certain social and cultural issues responsible for these attacks have been patriarchal system, refusals of a relationship or marriage proposal, failures of a girl to bring a dowry to her husband, marital disputes, family disputes, political rivalries, land disputes and the accidental presence of the victims at the scene.

 

Q-4.   Do only women suffer acid attacks, or are there other types of victims as well?

Dr. Kaur: Generally, in an acid attack, 60-70% of acid attack victims are women. Though more women have been victims of acid attacks, men, too, have suffered who bear 30-40% of such attacks in India.   Some transgenders are also victims of acid attacks. The number of men or transgender victims may be less, but they are equally serious. They also suffer the same physical and mental pain.

Q-5  Do you find that media and obscenity act as catalysts in acid attacks and other crimes against women?

Dr. Kaur: Today media is also highly impacting everyone. The visual media, cinema in particular influences the attitudes and mindset of the public to a great extent. Multinational corporations and Cinema Industry, with their neo-liberal approach, are treating women as commodities. They have redefined the concept of beauty. Obscene and near-pornographic advertisements are stereotyping women in society. The media is somewhere propagating the idea that women are objects for sexual satisfaction. Obscenity is a kind of mind pollution and a social problem affecting the society at large and media is sharing it carelessly. The entertainment industry is cashing in on backwardness and medieval social behavior by bringing in, visuals, posters, dialogs etc. which are obscene and derogatory towards women. These irresponsible acts lead young people to think in a perverted way about women, love, and sex.  Even the fairy tales like “Cindrella” contributed to an unrealistic idea of romance and portray women as weak, submissive, dependent, and self- sacrificing, while men are powerful, active, and dominant. 

Q 6- What role Indian courts played in cases of acid attacks?

Dr. Kaur: Indian Judiciary has played a very important role by pronouncing decisions which provided guidelines for the betterment of acid attack survivors. The Landmark case Laxmi Versus Union of India, lead to insertion of various provisions in Indian Penal Code and Code of Criminal Procedure. The Supreme Court of India in this case directed that all hospitals whether private or public run by central, state government or local bodies should provide first aid and/or medical treatment free of cost. Supreme Court also directed for the minimum compensation of INR 300,000 ($4200 USD)/− to every acid attack victim in all states and union territories. The court also directed the state governments to issue bans on the sale of acid and declared acid as a “poison” which would not then be readily available. Further, as per the direction of the Supreme Court, Victim Compensation Scheme was also initiated by the government with the help of legal services authority so that each acid attack victim can take benefit of such an initiative.

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