When men turn to violence because of rejection
A soul wrenching loud scream in a busy street in broad daylight disrupts the normal routine of the populace. The young girl was screaming lying down on the ground, fumes coming off her body. Each cell of skin shrinking painfully, each organ melting – eyes, ear, nose, and creating a hole in the head. This agony is inferior to the one she would encounter rest of her life while looking at her disfigured self. All this just because a lunatic couldn’t accept a NO.
It was an acid attack on that innocent beautiful life.
The struggling single woman who fears an attack every day
Millions of women across the globe live with this fear in their already struggling life. With a high survival rate among victims, acid attacks are rarely carried out with murder in mind. I met Savita during one of my workshops on rape awareness. Savita is a hardworking divorced woman, sole support for her daughter and ailing mother. The abuse and assault of her husband crossed her tolerance when he advanced towards their daughter. She had to stand up for her daughter now. Her best option was to live with her mother. There she started working in 7 houses a day so that the three of them can have a decent meal at night in their 10×6 room.
Every morning she patches up her leftover courage from previous day, before she leaves to face the world outside those closed doors of her room. Her decision to separate from her husband didn’t go well down with the neighbours, for their clichéd mind-set said that a husband has the right to do anything. Yet because she grew up there, she knew how to handle them. But she was worried about the bunch of jobless goons sitting under the tree round the corner, who stare, laugh, whistle and pass lewd comments about her blouse, her modesty when she crosses that under-construction building. She was terrified by those deviant men who sit at the pan centre across the entry door of the building and try to scan her body – every inch of it – as she passes by them.
She left an abusive marriage, only to face no peace
First she tried to ignore the comments and move on, but it didn’t work. When she tried to retaliate to such comments and confront one of them, they crowded her and one of them grabbed her hand and threatened to pour acid over her if she didn’t behave properly with them. This scared her so much that now she keeps a small knife with her hidden under the pallu of her saree that she tucks in and covers every inch of her body with. She knows that the metal of knife would melt like her bones once the acid touches her skin, but that is her sole bastion of her survival.
Everyday she lives a little, dies more. But every night, when her daughter with bright eyes and a big smile tugs the end of her saree waiting to hear a new story before they retire to sleep, the patchwork begins again. Fear of acid can wait till tomorrow.
The dictionary says acid is a solution with a pH below 7, sour in taste and makes litmus paper red. But the daunting truth is that it takes just 30 seconds for the acid to burn the skin to a very deep level. It has power enough to dissolve the bones! It causes immediate disfigurement (that need multiple surgeries), pain and burns to the body.
What to do if you are the victim of an acid attack
- Stand under slow running water or douse the survivor with water for half an hour.
- If it gets in the eyes, keep your eyes open while water is allowed to pour into the eyes so as to remove every drop of acid.
- Under running water, remove clothing, shoes, jewellery, watch and any other contaminated item touching the skin.
- Keep contaminated clothing, shoes and all other items in a plastic bag for evidence.
- Keep water running till help arrives.
What NOT to do if you are the victim of an acid attack
- Do not soak the burn in water.
- Do not use butter, grease, oils or ointments if it is a severe burn.
- Usage of ice is a strict no-no, as it may worsen the condition.
- Do not use a fluffy cloth, like a towel or blanket.
- Don’t delay calling for medical help.
Related reading: 15 steps to get rid of a stalker and be safe
Indian laws that deal with acid attacks
The accused in acid attacks can be prosecuted under section 326A in case of grievous injury and 326B in cases of relatively lesser injuries to victims. The minimum punishment under 326A is 10 years, while the maximum is life imprisonment; under 326B, the minimum punishment is five years imprisonment, which can extend up to 7 years.
The compensation payable by the State Government under Section 357A shall be in addition to the payment of fine to the victim under section 326A of the Indian Penal Code.
Acid attack is possibly the worst among the crimes related to violence, as it not just physically but psychologically crushes the survivor. Even with stringent laws, acid is the most accessible weapon.
Most of the violent crimes against women have their base in deep underlying culture of misogyny and the patriarchal system of society. In India, the most common acid attacks involve women, especially teenage girls (under 18) with the reason being rejection of marriage or any sexual advances or suspicion (one man poured acid into the vagina of wife because he suspected her of infidelity). Around 1500 acid attack cases emerge around the world every year, according to the Acid Survivors Trust International.