Reality is a concentrated acid; it burns one to the core.
Acid attacks are certainly an abomination of our society. Whenever we come across a case where we get to know about a person (mostly a girl or a woman) being the victim of an acid attack, we, as human beings, feel absurd about the pain, agony, torment, she might be going through. But, that is all towards her physical being. What about her mental stability? Do we ever spare a few moments from our overly occupied schedule to give this thing a thought?
The answer is simply a no. We never think in depth about this because eventually after expressing how pitiful we are feeling for that particular victim, either we change the news channel or we start distracting our minds with something calming or entertaining. We never give a thought to such an individual’s mental state because we never want to. And this, not wanting to, also comes under the ambit of that reality which is a concentrated acid and will gradually burn all of us to the core.
Defining Acid Attack
To face the society, face doesn’t matter.
These are the words of an acid attack survivor. And her words are sufficient enough to reflect the amount of courage she must have gathered to accept herself as a part of this society.
An acid attack is an act that involves throwing acid on a person, usually on his/her face out of the feeling of revenge, avenge, or something equally devilish in nature. Although this act is mostly performed against a girl or a woman with the intention of ruining her life as a whole, this heinous offense can take place against anyone irrespective of the individual’s gender, caste, class, religion, and age. It can happen due to any reason, but in the case of a girl or a woman, this takes place majorly due to the refusal expressed to the offender by the victim towards getting involved in any kind of physical commitment, like refusal to marry or rejecting to become a part of a romantic relationship.
This particular act of a girl or a woman which can be considered as an expression of displaying one’s will arouses the feeling of enmity, hatred, or revenge against her, thereafter resulting as an acid attack on her body as well her soul.
Scarring the Victim
Lakshmi Agarwal is a name that the majority of the population has heard about. She is an acid attack survivor and is the epitome of what hard childhood and acceptance look like. In one of her interactions, she said – People say inner beauty matters, but in reality, only a few people go beyond physical features. Her story is no different from other acid attack survivors. It is just the fact that she was able to gather that much strength and self-belief that was needed to share her entire journey which must have felt nothing less than breathing in hell.
The following points will be shedding light on different types of consequences; an acid attack victim goes through –
The injuries that are caused by acid are absolutely severe and unbearable. It has been observed by doctors and scientists that acids are capable enough of consuming two complete layers of skin. We know as factual knowledge that due to acid the fat and muscles present in the body get broken, but sometimes even the bones of the body too, get dissolved. Another significant point that must be taken into consideration here is that the depth of the wound or the injury also depends a lot upon the strength of the acid and the time duration for which it remained in contact with the particular part of the skin or the entire skin of the body. The moment acid comes in contact with the face of the victim, with an apace speed it consumes the eyes, ears, nose, and mouth of the concerned person. Eyelids and lips get damaged to a great extent, at times, burning off utterly. It might close the nostrils, thereby fusing the nose and leaving the ears withered throughout. If the acid is thrown on the face then the face will be damaged certainly but from the face if the droplets of acid fall to any other part of the body, for instance, neck, shoulders, chest, etc, then even these parts will get burned leaving that part of the skin irritated and burning.
Post acid attack, there could be multiple dangers that the victim might have to face, but the most major and immediate one as per the observations put forth by the doctors is ‘breathing failure.’ If the victim inhales the acid, which is very possible, then it can end up establishing problems related to breathing in the following two ways –
By making the neck swell, thereby obstructing the airway and resulting in strangulating the victim.
By causing a virulent reaction in the lungs of the victim.
With the proper treatment and time as the burns start to heal, scars get formed all over that part of the body wherever acid came into contact. The skin of the person is pulled tight by those scars, resulting in various types of disfigurements like the following –
The eyelids may not move at all.
The cheeks become scarred
The nose gets shrunken, whereby the nostrils might get blocked completely
The mouth may not open at all and lips are torn down
The chin might become wielded to the chest
Narrow lining or wide spots of scars might get reflected in the chest area
The shoulders might get damaged to that extent, making the movement of arms almost impossible.
The cartilage may get ruined absolutely.
Literally, no one can deny the fact that the already established norms of this society especially towards women are partisan and prejudiced. These norms have always expected more from women in comparison to men. Now just imagine that if this society is already following the bigoted norms for women in general then how will it perceive the existence of an acid attack survivor. We should always keep this thing in our mind that before a survivor accepts herself, it is the society that needs to accept her first.
In one of her interviews, Lakshmi Agarwal shared her views over this that is derived from her personal experience. She discussed how the people around her, who constitute a part of our society, harassed her and her family with their harsh remarks and judgmental attitude. And the irony hits really hard when we find out that mostly it is a woman who is judging another woman and making it difficult for her to normalize herself. Women should understand the agony of another woman, perhaps this is just a utopian vision, unfortunately.
The acid attack survivors witnessed discrimination at every single step of their life. The fear of being made a topic of discussion or witticism didn’t let them step out of their residence. The sense that they will be judged throughout their lives, majorly for their physical features made it arduous for them to develop self-belief and self-confidence. Girls who were unmarried were constantly surrounded by the social stigma telling them that no man would prefer to marry them now. These are just some of the things which constitute the social consequences that a victim has to go through.
The disfigurement of the body and the disabilities make it extremely toilsome for the survivors to achieve their financial independence. It’s not possible for all of them to work and the ones who can, it’s very difficult for them to get some work. And this helpless situation makes them dependent on some other person for their living. Along with checking out the qualifications, skills, background of the person seeking the job, the employers also look for the appearance or the looks of the concerned person which leads to these victims rendered unemployed.
Psychology plays a huge role in human development. Humans have a tendency to overthink. And under the influence of some kind of stress, this tendency enhances greatly. Similarly, a girl or a woman who has been a victim of an acid attack goes through ample consequences one of them being the psychological consequences.
The fact that ‘this is the way I have turned out to be and this is the way I will continue to be till I am alive’ is very difficult to accept. The unbearable treatment, the injuries, the scars, the disfigurements, and all the disabilities suddenly become a part of the body, just like all other body parts. The trauma that the accident leaves on the mind of the victim stays with her throughout her life. The thoughts like how this society will take me now, how my relatives and friends will behave, and most importantly how will I accept myself are some of the questions that constantly revolve in the mind of the victims. And as an upshot of this only, they start falling prey to unhealthy evils like depression, suppression, helplessness, and hopelessness.
Section 326A of Indian Penal Code, 1860 clearly states that whoever causes grievous hurt to someone by administering or throwing acid on them, with the intention of causing such injury or with the knowledge that he/she can cause such injury, causes injury within the variety or under the ambit of partial or permanent damage, burns or maims, disfiguring or disabling of part or parts of the body then under these circumstances he/she would be considered accountable for imprisonment for a period of not less than 10 years which may be extended to life accompanied with fine, depending on the aspects of the particular case.”
Section 326B of IPC further lays down the punishment for attempting the act of hurling the shots of acid on someone. Consistent with this particular section, an individual for a shot or for an attempt to throw acid shall be considered accountable for punishment that would be of a minimum of 5 years which may even get extended to 7 years accompanied by a fine. Section 114B, of Evidence Act, 1872 added by the Criminal (Amendment) Act, 2013 states that if acid is thrown or administered on one person by another person, then the court in such circumstances will presume that such an act has been carried on with the intention of causing bodily injury as mentioned in Section 326A of the IPC.
Cases of Acid Attack
In the case of Laxmi v. Union of India, Lakshmi (the victim) was charged with acid when she was merely 16 years old. She was charged by the man whom she refused to marry. She filed a PIL in the Supreme Court in the year 2006. Apart from asking for compensation, she further requested the judiciary to initiate the creation of new laws and amendments of the existing laws related to acid attacks. She demanded an absolute ban or curb on the sale of acids in the market.
The honorable Supreme Court of India ordained the Central Government to sit and work with the State Governments in order to draft a plan of action to restrict the sale of acids in order to stop chemical attacks. However, seeing the flippant attitude on the part of the central and state governments respectively in regards to the crime, the Supreme Court on its own mapped out a new set of regulations and passed the pronouncement in favor of Lakshmi. According to the regulations put forth by the Supreme Court:
Acid cannot be sold to anyone who is below the age of 18 years;
If you want to purchase acid you have to equip your photo identity proof.
These legislations were passed by the court because of the very fact that due to the unauthorized sale of acids in the market, acid attacks are enhancing steadily. It is so willingly available that it has become the most effortless means for committing crimes against women. Hydrochloric acid is as low-cost and affordable as buying a bar of soap. Furthermore, there is no consistent check or scrutiny of stocks of acid as there is for other explosives.
A Bollywood movie starring Deepika Padukone titled ‘Chhapak’ also tried to bring before us the story of Laxmi, but in a fictional manner. With this fact, we can comprehend the seriousness of the offense alone and the severity of the case of Laxmi Agarwal that even the entertainment industry felt the need to highlight this story in order to bring it to the notice of people all over the world.
Success Stories of Survivors
Reshma was just 17-year-old when she was charged with acid. She was at the railway station of her hometown returning from Allahabad (now known as Prayagraj) when a group of four men, consisting of her sister’s husband as well, threw acid on her face and disfigured it entirely. Reportedly her sister’s husband misinterpreted her for her sister i.e., for his own wife.
Reshma went into depression and was severely traumatized. Gradually she decided to overcome all her insecurities, with the constant support of her family. She decided to establish her career in modeling. She made her debut in modeling from EndAcidSale which became a real big hit. She also created videos for YouTube denouncing the easy selling of acids in India. She gained popularity after she walked at New York Fashion Week. With time, she became a blogger too and ended up writing a book titled ‘Being Reshma’, in which she hurled light on her journey out of depression.
More than 2 decades ago, a man threw acid on Madhu’s face. It melted the layers of skin on her forehead and cheeks and completely blinded her in one eye. For years, she was too hesitant and traumatized to show her face in public. She could not find any job for herself as she was not being considered good-looking for a front job.
However, she decided that she just can’t continue living emotionally broken due to her physical features and therefore in the year 2016 she joined a café named ‘Sheroes Café’ as a waitress. Many tourists visit the café and take pictures of the place as well as the staff members which include Madhu as well. This moving on in life has made her feel empowered along with making her feel confident about herself again. Today, she is backing her family consisting of her husband and three children single-handedly by being the sole earner of the family.
Role NGOs play
NGOs provide a vibrant ray of hope and optimism to the victims. They make attempts in order to balance their inconclusive life post-attack. They provide aid and assistance in uniting the victims from different parts of the country so that they don’t feel alone in their challenges. Living together with each other would provide every one of them with additional support and with this very mindset NGOs try to explore employment opportunities for the victims.
When the government is unable to do much, NGOs come forward on their own and selflessly try their level best to raise funds for the treatment and medication of the victims. They organize seminars in which the victims can take part and work towards developing skills so that they can get their confidence back and enhance their personality against all odds.
I’ll be touching on the conclusion of this article by briefly mentioning my viewpoint on this issue. We all are well aware of the fact that from the last few years ample bills have been passed, laws have been amended, new amendments have been introduced, multiple welfare programs have been initiated, but still, being honest we all know that this is not enough. The way, even today, this offense is so much into the discussion, clearly tells us that even after so many efforts put forth by the concerned authorities this offense is still prevailing and increasing constantly.
We often blame society for misbehaving with acid attack victims. But, who is this society? We are the society. We constitute this society. Therefore, if we wish to see that society should put efforts in reaching out to the victims and backing them in order to boost their confidence, then primarily we should take this step first and set an example for others. All the victims deserve as much respect, love, and dignity as any other human being on this planet. We should not only understand their plight and display our sympathetic approach rather we should make them feel as normal as they were once.
And, along with the society or people out there, I believe that even the law should make sure that justice is served timely to all those who are seeking it. “Justice delayed is justice denied” is the reality. And, as I have already mentioned in the beginning, ‘reality is a concentrated acid; it burns one to the core.’ This simply implies that if justice will continue to be delayed and denied to the victims seeking it, then one day this will eventually make the entire system strangle to that extent that people will stop trusting the mechanism of our nation.
Editor’s Note The author in this article discusses acid attack victims and what consequences they face in their life. The author then discusses the various legal remedies available to acid attack victims and highlights important case laws and their effect in shaping new legislations and guidelines. The author concludes that even with so many laws and amendments in place we as a society have failed to provide justice to these victims and if this goes on soon people will stop trusting the system.