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ACID ATTACKS: No Room for Leniency

Aarti Aarti
19 Dec 2022
Various studies have concluded that the motive behind acid attacks usually include family/land disputes; domestic abuse/violence; relationship conflicts; turning down indecent proposals, suspicion of infidelity; theft; sex abuse, etc.

The recent acid attack on a 17-year-old 12th Class student in Delhi, once again draws attention to the easy availability of acid despite a slew of directions passed by the Supreme Court on July 18, 2013 including prohibiting over-the-counter sale and purchase it.

The victim, while on the way to school along with her younger sister, was attacked with some acid-like substance at 7.30 a.m. by two persons riding a bike on December 14. Thanks to the swift action by the police, three accused persons have been apprehended.

While the ongoing investigation is expected to decipher the actual motive, what we know is that the acid attack was allegedly planned by 20-year-old Sachin Arora who knew the victim and they were on friendly terms till September. They had fallen out after September which is believed to have led the accused to indulge in this crime. Sachin who used to do wallpaper work is said to have procured the acid from an e-commerce company. 

The crime, reportedly executed by 19-year-old Harshit Aggarwal, is a packer in a private company. He drove the bike and his accomplice, 22-year-old Virender Singh, a generator mechanic, in the pillion, threw the acid. Sachin is said to have placed his mobile at another location so as to create an alibi.

Various studies have concluded that the motive behind acid attacks usually include family/land disputes; domestic abuse/violence; relationship conflicts; turning down indecent proposals, suspicion of infidelity; theft; sex abuse, etc. 78 percent of acid attack cases take place due to refusal to marriage or a rejection of romance by the other party.

Earlier this month, a 24-year-old man, according to news reports, was held in Delhi for allegedly threatening women online with acid attacks. Having created a fictitious Instagram account about a year and a half ago, he had around 1100 followers. He sent messages to beautiful women and whenever anyone responded, he would threaten them with making their objectionable videos viral and throw acid on them if they did not meet him. It is said that out of fear, many women met him.

It is not only when relationships turn sour that acid is thrown on girls and women but also due to domestic disputes. Last month, in Jharkhand’s Ranchi, a husband allegedly threw acid on his wife’s face after the latter failed to provide him with money to buy a motor bike. The wife had asked her father to provide Rs 70,000 for the purpose and she was assured that the money would be arranged soon. In the meanwhile, her husband became uncontrollable and threw a jug full of acid on her face. Hearing her screens and cry, neighbours ran to the spot and rushed her to the hospital where she is undergoing treatment.

An alcoholic husband, in Uttar Pradesh’s Bareilly, who would often beat up both his wife and four-year-old daughter, had a rather bitter shock of his life. This August, after he abused his wife and daughter, the enraged woman allegedly threw acid, mixed with chilli powder on him when he was asleep. With over 40 percent burns on several parts of his body, he had to be hospitalised.

Well, even animals are vulnerable to acid attacks. A few years back, many flabbergasted animal lovers in Ireland literally wept, appalled at the worst case of animal cruelty they had ever seen. For reasons unknown, a dog had been subjected to untold abuse by some unidentified unscrupulous elements. Yes, the sight of a struggling female bull terrier, generally a friendly dog, was so grave that a large part of her skin had peeled off, actually burning away. Her tongue was found ulcerated from licking the acid poured on her body. Though the hapless dog was rushed to a Veterinary hospital for treatment, the surgeon, due to the severity of its injuries, decided to euthanize her.

Some years back, a couple in Pakistan killed their 15-year-old daughter by pouring acid on her for committing the “crime” of merely looking at two boys riding a motorbike outside her home. Suffering 70 percent burns for two days, the teenager died in agony and pain. Both parents were slapped with murder charges.

The unthinkable happened in 1999 when 3-month-old Samuel Lim Hong Xiang was left by his parents (before going to work) at the grandmother’s place, in Singapore. No sooner the grand mom stepped out briefly for some work, after putting the toddler to sleep, one of the two maids working there allegedly poured sulphuric acid down the baby’s throat. This was done with the motive of damaging the reputation of the other maid. The child was rushed to a Paediatric Intensive Care Unit, where he spent over six months. The horrific attack, besides leaving the infant with terrible scars, also severely damaged his tongue, throat and vocal chords, while his upper airway was completely blocked. The doctors thought he wouldn’t survive, but the “miracle boy”, as he is known, survived amid multifarious challenges. Nonetheless, unlike others, Samuel is unable to speak. He interacts actively through non-verbal means like writing and gesturing. He has never tasted food. He breathes and feeds through tubes inserted into his body. Well, the accused maid was jailed for 8 years after a fast-track trial.

But for the unrelenting efforts of acid attack survivor Laxmi Agarwal, whose real-life story is quite inspiring, the law in India wouldn’t have become strict. In 2005, Laxmi, then 15-year-old, was doused with acid on her face in broad daylight at a Delhi bus stand by a 32-year-old man and his girlfriend. He had proposed to marry Laxmi and she said “No”. Three days later, on April 22, 2005 Laxmi was stopped outside the bus stand from where she usually took a bus. The woman pushed her down and threw acid on Laxmi’s face. Her father supported her to file a case in court in 2006 to ban acid. Her attackers were charged with attempt to murder and for criminal conspiracy but later on got bail. The Delhi High Court on appeal upheld the decision of the sessions court and ordered the accused to pay Rs 3 lakh as compensation to the victim. Laxmi next moved the Supreme Court which expressed grave concern on the availability of acid in market and issued a slew of directions.

Counter sale of acids is completely prohibited unless the seller maintains a record of the address and other details of the buyer and the quantum. The chemical can be sold only after the buyer produces a government issued photo identity card and after the purpose of purchase is specified. The seller must submit details of sale to the local police within three days of the transaction. The chemical should not be sold to any person under 18 and all stocks must be declared with the local sub-divisional magistrate within 15 days. Undeclared stocks could be confiscated and the defaulter fined up to Rs.50,000.

The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 has introduced important provisions to the Indian Penal Code for offences of causing grievous hurt by throwing acid. Section 326-A and 326-B have been added with the object of making specific provisions for punishment in case of causing grievous hurt by use of acid etc. or voluntarily throwing or attempting to throw acid causing permanent or partial damage, or deformity to, or burns or maims or disfigures or disable any part of the body of that person. 

Under 326-A, the minimum punishment for acid throwing is a 10-year imprisonment which can extend up to life imprisonment with fine. Under Section 326-B, the minimum punishment for attempted acid throwing is a 5-year imprisonment which can extend up to 7 years imprisonment with fine. Further, Section 357-B provides for compensation payable by the State Government under Section 357-A shall be in addition to the payment of fine to the victim under IPC Section 326-A. Under Section 357-C, all hospitals, public or private, whether run by the Central Government, the State Government, local bodies or any other person, shall immediately, provide first-aid or medical treatment, free of cost, to the victims of acid attacks.

At an individual level, once an acid attack has taken place, for the victim, the consequences are quite challenging. When thrown on an individual’s face, physical trauma is simply awful and depending on the concentration of the acid, the layers of the skin and the bones may get affected. Inhalation of acid vapours can create breathing problems since it causes reaction in the lungs. Victims may also suffer from psychological problems and mental health issues which take considerable time to heal. Above all, many victims may feel that they are being ignored in the society as well in the community at the household level. This is where family support and counselling measures can instill confidence amongst the victims of acid attack.

In August, the Lok Sabha was informed that 386 acid attack cases on women were reported during 2018-22 and 62 persons convicted. It is time to nip the menace in the bud itself and there ought to be no leniency.  

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