According to Wikipedia ‘Acid attack’ or vitriolage is defined as the act of throwing acid onto the body of a person “with the intention of injuring or disfiguring [them] out of jealousy or revenge”. Perpetrators of these attacks throw acid at their victims, usually at their faces, burning them, and damaging skin tissue, often exposing and sometimes dissolving the bones. The long-term consequences of these attacks include blindness and permanent scarring of the face and body.
As a part of Justice For Women, I have come across some acid attack cases and have been managing groups and pages such for these victims: Archana Kumari, Inderjit Kaur, Sonali Mukherjee and recently a 15-year old girl called Tuba Tabassum.
With every new case, the wounds get deeper, the crime gets graver and the heart gets heavier. How could one human being put another through such a horrendous act of terror? It turns the victim into the living dead. Acid attack doesn’t just deforms one’s face and body, it takes away their whole personality, their identity and more than that, their life; It causes extreme physical and mental suffering to victims and permanently mar their psyche. I personally could not think of an act more inhumane than this one.
According to a report by the Avon Global Center for Women and Justice at Cornell Law School, the Committee on International Human Rights of the New York City Bar Association, the Cornell Law School International Human Rights Clinic, and the Virtue Foundation, called COMBATING ACID VIOLENCE IN BANGLADESH, INDIA, AND CAMBODIA, “acid violence is prevalent in these countries because of three related factors: gender inequality and discrimination, the easy availability of acid, and impunity for acid attack perpetrators.”
Since I wasn’t completely aware of acid attack know-how, I did research on the topic by reading the above mentioned report, Raahnuma.org and Tehelka:
What are the most common types of acids used in acid attacks?
Most commonly available acids used to attack victims are hydrochloric, sulfuric, or nitric acid, which quickly burns through flesh and bone.
What are the reasons behind these acid attacks?
They result from domestic or land disputes, dowry demands or revenge. In many cases they are a form of gender based violence, perhaps because a young girl or woman spurned sexual advances or rejected a marriage proposal.
What are the after-effects/consequences of the acid attack on victims?
Acid attacks cause immediate damage, disfigurement, pain, and long lasting medical complications for victims. Acid can melt away a victim’s skin and flesh, going as far as dissolving bones. The burned skin dies, turning black and leathery, and severe scarring results.
After the attacks, victims are at risk of breathing failure due to the inhalation of acid vapors which cause either a poisonous reaction or swelling in the lungs. In the weeks or even months after the attack, acid burn victims may suffer from infections, which can also cause death if not treated properly.
How long does it take for the acid to start affecting the skin?
It takes five seconds of contact to cause superficial burns and 30 seconds to result in full-thickness burns.
What kind of First Aid must be provided to an acid attack victim?
- As quickly as possible, flush contaminated area with lukewarm, gently flowing water for at least 20-30 minutes, by the clock. If irritation persists, repeat flushing.
- While flushing the eyes use lukewarm water and keep the eyelids open at all times to allow uninterrupted flushing to rinse every last residue of acid.
- Neutral saline solution may be used as soon as it is available without interrupting the flushing.
- Call for an ambulance right away and keep flushing until one arrives.
- Under running water, remove clothing, shoes, jewelry watch any other contaminated item touching the skin.
- Keep contaminated clothing, shoes and all other items in a plastic bag for evidence.
Dos and Don’ts:
- Do not take off any clothing that is stuck to the burn.
- Do not interrupt flushing at any time.
- Do not soak the burn in water.
- Do not use ice as this will damage the skin.
- Do not use a fluffy cloth, like a towel or blanket.
- Do not break or pop any blisters.
- Do not use butter, grease, oils or ointments if it is a severe burn..
- Make sure the person is breathing, and administer CPR if necessary
- Give him/her a pain reliever medicine.
- Cool the burn with running water or a cold damp cloth.
For more details, please refer to Raahnuma, a site dedicated to providing information, support and resources to victims of abuse of any kind and their families.
Why do acid attack victim require to undergo multiple reconstruction surgeries?
Victims must endure painful surgical procedures just to prevent further harm and suffering.
If not washed off immediately, acid continues to burn the skin, and may eventually cause skeletal damage and organ failure. If the dead skin is not removed from an acid violence victims’ body within four or five days, the new skin may grow to cause further facial deformities. If there is burned skin tissue around the neck and armpit areas, it must be removed to facilitate movement.
After a while, some skin may grow back and grow over eyelids or nostrils of victims, or pull on existing skin resulting in the formation of lumps.
To avoid severe pain and further disabilities, acid burn victims need staged surgeries and constant physical therapy to ensure that scarred tissue remains elastic and does not harm other parts of the body.
Why are acid attacks so common in our country?
The biggest reason for the high frequency rate of acid attacks in India is that concentrated acid is cheap and easily available in the market, for as low as Rs. 16-25 per liter.
Furthermore there are no legal restrictions imposed on buying or selling acid. Anyone can legally purchase acid over the counter in pharmacies, automobile repair shops, goldsmith shops, and open-air markets. Acid is also heavily used in many households as a cleaning agent.
Why must we treat acid attacks as a grave criminal act and what should be the punishment like?
Acid attack perpetrators do not usually intend to kill their victims, but to cause long-lasting physical damage and emotional trauma.
Even if the perpetrator does not intend to cause death, the injuries sustained by the victim may still result in death.
Is there an international legislation for acid attacks?
Acid violence constitutes gender-based violence, a form of discrimination under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
What must be the State’s involvement in curbing the increasing number of acid attacks?
- States committed to decreasing the rate of acid attacks should enact laws regulating the handling of acid such as
- Requiring the storage and sale of acid in labeled containers indicating the nature of the content, cautioning users about its dangerousness, and warning them of the penalties associated with misuse of acid.
- Banning the use of concentrated forms of acid for household purposes where less potentially harmful alternatives are available.
- States must enact targeted legislation and policies to address acid violence and also ensure effective implementation of those laws and policies by conducting appropriate investigations, protecting victims from threats that could undermine these investigations and providing just punishment to the perpetrators of acid attacks.
Where does India stand as far as formulating a legislation dedicated solely to acid attack is concerned?
The National Commission for Women (NCW) came up with a draft of the Prevention of Offences (by Acids) Act, 2008.
The draft Bill proposed by the NCW suggested that a national acid attack victims’ assistance board be set up to recommend to the government strategies for regulating and controlling the production, hoarding, import, sale and distribution of acids.
The Cabinet has passed the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2012, with special provisions for acid victims. For the first time, acid attacks have been included under a standalone provision in the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
It has been proposed that two sections — 326A (hurt by acid attack) and 326B (attempt to throw or administer acid) — be added to the IPC. This is a non-bailable offence. The proposed law states that the attacker could get a jail term of 10 years to life for causing hurt by acid. He or she could be sent to jail for up to seven years for attempting to do so.
The law states that there should be an additional clause in the law making where the State should take up the responsibility of compensating the victim if the accused fails to do so. Some states such as Karnataka have adopted a mechanism to pay the victim from State funds. Recently, the Delhi Government too announced that it would pay a compensation of up to Rs. 3 lakh to a victim in case there is disfigurement of the face.
Acid Survivors Trust International (ASTI) is the only organisation in the world working at the international level to end acid and burns violence. It also works with UN agencies, NGOs and strategic partners from across the world to increase awareness of acid violence and develop effective responses at the national and international level. In India, the partner is called Acid Survivors Forum India.
Needless to say, there is an urgent need for India to pass a separate law to curb this vicious act of hatred towards women called acid attack. The actual number of such cases may exceed our imagination since there is no national statistics available to record cases of acid attack. Also, most of these cases go unreported due to various reasons such as economic background of the family, threats to victims, insensitive treatment by police and medical staff of the victims etc.
We need to open our eyes to this deadly threat of acid attack and must ask the government to regulate distribution of commonly available acid as well as regulate laws specifically targeting the heinous act of acid attack.
For this purpose, we have formed a group on Facebook called Students Against Acid Attack to collect like-minded, strong-headed youth on a shared platform, that realizes the urgency of the situation and stands united to support this cause. Kindly join, share and be a part of the student collective to fight for the human rights of these acid attack victims and ensure that justice is duly served.
Because together this generation can and shall make this country proud!