Sunday, 19 September, 2021

Heinous Crime Of Acid Attack

Namrata Sharma


In July 2020, a team of Teku-based Metropolitan Police Range and Metropolitan Police Crime Division from Dallu area took into custody a 47-year-old Mohammed Alam of Rautahat and a 23-year-old Faiyaz Alam of Bihar, India, in connection with the acid attack on a 22-year-old woman from Okhaldhunga when she was returning to her rented room at Bafal, Kathmandu. The woman incurred burns on her face and neck. The case involved the refusal of a marriage proposal to the woman by the miscreants which sparked a revenge attack by them. According to the police, the two attackers will be charged under section 193 of the Criminal Code. The perpetrators of the acid attack could face a jail-term of five to eight years and a fine ranging from one to five lakh rupees.

Cowardly behaviour
Over the centuries we, the Homo sapiens, have prided ourselves in ruling the world with our intricate and sophisticated socialising skills needed for the betterment of our societies. We have improved our abilities to communicate with each other and fulfill our wants and needs by exploiting natural resources and with our technological advances. However, over the centuries, we have also manifested our worst behaviours from time to time. Acid attacks on fellow humans by some can be classified as one of our most atrocious and cowardly behaviours.
An acid attack is also known as acid throwing or vitriol attack. The most common types of acid used in such attacks are sulfuric and nitric acids. Hydrochloric acid is supposed to be a milder form and used less as the damage may not be as harmful as what the perpetrator wants. Where laws are strict and acid selling is controlled, aqueous solutions of strongly alkaline material such as caustic soda are also used. The consequences of these attacks often lead to blindness, eye burns, severe scarring and disfiguring of the face and body, along with far-reaching social, psychological and economic difficulties of the survivors.
Nepal has been witnessing a series of acid attacks mainly on girls and women. It is very difficult to get statistics related to acid attacks in Nepal. In August 2017, the Supreme Court of Nepal banned illegal buying and selling of acid. However, the laws are yet to be properly formulated. As incidents of corrosive attacks have not decreased, both the survivors and activists are demanding for imposition of stricter laws.
Acid attacks are prevalent all over the world, but South Asia is known as the region where this is more prevalent. The UK is reported to have one of the highest rates of acid attacks per capita in the world according to Acid Survivors Trust international (ASTI). According to ASTI data, in 2018 there were over 501 acid attacks in the UK, and in London alone 310 corrosive substance associated crimes. One interesting statistics is that in the UK men seem to be the majority of the victims as opposed to other parts of the world. The perpetrators tend to be men, too. The 2016 data of UK showed that 67 per cent of the victims were male, but statistics from ASTI suggest that there are at least 1500 recorded cases of corrosive attacks globally out of which 80 per cent of victims worldwide are women. Sixty per cent of such crimes go unreported.
According to the Indian National Crime Bureau (NCRB) there were 228 acid attacks reported in India in 2018. It is assumed that a large number of such attacks go unreported and the real number of attacks there could exceed 1,000 per year. According to the same report, the majority of the attacks in India is on girls and women, and occurs in public places like roads, schools and colleges. India has tightened laws related to punishing the perpetrators, however, according to ASTI research, the total time taken for litigation to end a crime ranges from 5-10 years, and in about 76 per cent of the cases, the attack is committed by a person who is known to the victims.

Strict legislation
According to UN WOMEN, between 1999 and 2013, a total of 3,512 Bangladeshi people were attacked by acid. The rate of cases declined by 15-20 per cent every year since 2002 based on strict legislation against perpetrators and regulation of acid sales. According to ASTI, a study of 90 victims of acid attacks in Bangladesh found that 80 per cent of attacks occurred in victim’s homes as opposed to the attacks in India and Nepal where attacks were mainly in public places.
The Committee on Law, Justice and Human Rights under the House of Representatives has directed the Nepal government to bring a separate but special law against acid attack in view of the increasing acid attacks in Nepal. Activists and survivors have highlighted the concerns that the existing legal system cannot regulate the production, use and sale of acid, impelling them to demand for a stringent law. It is felt that the penalty, provision of relief and compensation given as per the law relating to acid attacks in the Criminal Code fall far short of what is actually needed.

(Sharma is a senior journalist and women rights activist. Twitter handle: NamrataSharmaP)