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Acid Attacks and related laws in India: A Critical Analysis

In India, acid attacks on women have increased alarmingly during the past ten years. Acid violence is an abhorrent act usually performed against women with the purpose to maim or kill her. Another name for it is gender-based violence against women. According to a study, 78% of recorded cases of acid attacks took place due to the reason of rejections of romance or marriage. The number of acid attacks on women is rising daily.

Because it is so accessible and affordable, acid is a perfect weapon for abusers to employ against women. The most often used acids in these attacks are sulfuric and nitric acid. Acid attacks seldom result in fatalities, but they leave lasting physical, psychological, and social scars. In this article, all the laws available in India to answer the curse of acid attacks would be discussed. Comparative account of reported cases of acid attack would also be provided in this article. [1]

Introduction
The Acid Attack Victim 'Reshma' said, "Make your heart beautiful; Beauty is not just about how you look."

The Acid Attack Victim 'Anmol' said, "Acid can only change our face but not ruin our soul." "We are the same inside out and we should accept ourselves for who we are and live our lives happily."

We are celebrating the 'Azadi ka Amrit Mahostav' or the 75th year of the independence and our country has made great progress in the field of health, education and defense but we got failure in making change in our patriarchal society and its conservative thinking. The women of our country as well of world are subjected to various form cruelty, aggression and discrimination. The Acid Attack is one of the worst and vicious forms of cruelty against women.

This offence is committed against the women of all age groups, but the girl of young age are generally pushed into great pain and agony by throwing acid on her. Occasionally, men are also subjected to acid attacks. Acid attack refers to the inhumane act of hurling caustic material, such as hydrochloric acid or nitric acid, against a victim's face with the goal of disfiguring, agonizing, or killing her.

Acid is thrown, sprayed, or poured on victims' faces and bodies with the intent of permanently disfiguring them and causing them great physical and mental pain. The victim's excruciating physical suffering is made worse by the trauma of not being able to recognise oneself in the mirror and the misery of lost beauty.

Since the majority of attacks leave their victims disabled, even after they have recovered from the physical agony, the victims become reliant on others for daily activities, which causes further trauma to both the sufferer and their family. Acid assaults support discrimination and gender inequity. They may become extremely scared and frightened to leave their home or perform even the most basic activities, much less get married, have kids, find a job, attend school, etc.

Given their looks and impairments following an attack, even if they are determined to pursue a regular life, there is no guarantee that society will treat them as normal human beings. They may not be capable of working or find a job, which forces them to constantly struggle for survival.

Meaning and definition of Acid and Acid Attack

The terms "acid attacks" and "acid" are defined by the "Prevention of Offences (by Acids) Act 2008" (National Commission for Woman - Draft Bill).

According to Section 3 of said Act:
"Acid" shall mean and includes any substance which has the character of acidic or corrosive or burning nature that is capable of causing bodily injuries leading to scars or disfigurement or temporary or permanent disability.

"Acid attack" means any act of throwing acid or using acid in any form on the victim with the intent of or with the knowledge that such person is likely to cause to the other person Permanent or partial damage or deformity or disfiguration to any part of the body of such person.

The Indian Penal Code, 1860 by virtue of Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 under the Explanation 1 of Section 326B has defined acid to include: "any substance which has the acidic or corrosive character or burning nature, capable of causing bodily injury leading to scars or disfigurement or temporary or permanent disability".

Laws related to Acid Attack in India

  • The Indian Penal Code, 1860, Section 326A, deals with the intentional use of acid to intentionally cause permanent or partial harm, deformity, disfigurement, burns, or disability. The minimum penalty under this clause is ten years in jail, with the possibility of life in prison and a fine calculated according to the victim's medical costs.
     
  • Voluntarily throwing or attempting to hurl acid with the intent to hurt is a crime under Section 326B of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. The offender will receive a minimum sentence of five years in jail, which may be increased to seven years, as well as a fine.
     
  • Section 357-B CrPC reads:
    "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 or section 376D of the Indian Penal Code."
     
  • Section 357-C CrPC reads:
    "All hospitals, public or private, whether run by the Central Government, the State Government, local bodies or any other person, shall immediately, provide the first-aid or medical treatment, free of cost, to the victims of any offence covered under section 326A, 376, 376A, 376B, 376C, 376D or section 376E of the Indian Penal Code and shall immediately inform the police of such incident."

Guidelines of Supreme Court in the case of Lakshmi vs. UOI[2]

  1. Preventing the over-the-counter sale of acids and other corrosives unless the vendor keeps a logbook or register that documents each acid sale together with the buyer's information and the amount of acid sold.
  2. Only adults over the age of 18 may purchase items with a valid photo ID.
  3. The seller entering the rationale or cause for obtaining acid in the logbook.
  4. The vendor must declare all of their acid inventories to the relevant Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM) within 15 days. The concerned SDM has the authority to seize any undeclared acid stock and levy a punishment of up to Rs. 50,000/- on the offending merchant.
  5. Imposition of a fine up to Rs.50, 000/- on any person who commits breach of any of the above directions by the concerned SDM
    .Institutions of higher learning, research facilities, medical facilities, government agencies, and public sector department, organizations needed to maintain and store acid/corrosive, shall also keep a record of its use and the same must be submitted to the concerned SDM.
    Naming a person who will be held responsible for the storage and possession of acid on their property. The acid must be maintained under the observation of a person whose duty it is to inspect everyone leaving laboratories or storage facilities where acid is utilised.

Judicial observations in Acid Attack cases

In the case of Parivartan Kendra and anothers vs. Union of India and others, the Justice M.Y. Eqbal and Justice C. Nagappan summed the pain and agony suffered by the victims into followings words, "he likeliness of the victim getting a job which involves physical exertion of energy is very low.

The social stigma and the pain that she has to go through for not being accepted by the society cannot be neglected. Furthermore, the general reaction of loathing which she would have to encounter and the humiliation that she would have to face throughout her life cannot be compensated in terms of money.

As a result of the physical injury, the victim will not be able to lead a normal life and cannot dream of marriage prospects. Since her skin is fragile due to the acid attack she would have to take care of it for the rest of her life. Therefore, the after care and rehabilitation cost that has to be incurred will have huge financial implications on her and her family."[3]

Mahesha vs State by Malebennur Police [Criminal Appeal No.512/2016(C)]
The Court must not only keep in view the rights of the criminal, but also the rights of the victim of the crime and the society at large while considering the imposition of appropriate punishment. Taking judicial note that such restorative surgeries cost a fortune and if unfortunately the parents or the relatives of the victim are poor or even from middle class strata, they cannot afford or spend the huge amount and ultimately even after series of surgeries the result would be not fully restoring the damaged face as has been done in the present case.

Admittedly, in the present case, the damage caused by the accused throwing acid on the victim is immense, irreparable and cannot be retractable and the victim has to suffer throughout her life.

Therefore, the accused is not entitled for any lenience or mercy to be shown. When a woman is thrown acid on her face, what is inflicted is not merely physical injury but the deep sense of some deathless shame. She has to hide her face to the Society and the victim woman body is not a plaything and the accused cannot take advantage of it in order to satisfy his avenger and the Society will not tolerate such things any longer.

The crimes against women continued in a never ending cycle. As throwing acid on young women or young lady and minor boy is more dangerous than murder and same cannot be tolerated by any father, mother, husband, children of the women etc and society at large. Therefore, it is high time to deal with the criminals/acid attackers with iron hand.[4]

Statistical account of Acid attack cases

According to India Today's Data Intelligence Unit (DIU), 1483 people in India were victims of acid assaults between 2014 and 2018; Data from the National Crime Records Bureau support this. With 309 attacks and 319 victims, 2017 had the most acid attacks in these five years.

But while 2017 was followed by 2018, the legal system, regrettably, reveals a significant backlog for both years. 623 individuals were the victims of the 596 documented acid attack instances in 2017 and 2018, yet data shows that only 149 suspects were charged in each year. This is nearly or less than half the annual number of incidents.

The fewest cases (244) were recorded in 2014. From 2014 to 2018, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, and Delhi continuously ranked among the 10 worst states for acid assaults. 42% of acid attacks victims in India over the past five years have come from just these three states. There are several questions regarding convictions as well.

The most cases that went to trial at one time were 734 in 2015. The conviction rate of 45.4% appears higher than that of other crimes against women at first appearance. However, only 33 of the 734 cases that proceeded to trial were successfully resolved. The percentage of cases with convictions among all completed trials is used to compute the conviction rate.

Out of the 67 cases that went to trial in 2016 and 2017, just 25 were found guilty, despite the fact that 849 cases were submitted to trial over these two years. In 2018, the conviction rate increased to a high of 61%, although just 19 of the 523 cases that got to trial were successfully prosecuted.[5]

State/UT-wise Cases Registered (CR) under Acid Attack during 2018-2020

SR. STATE / UT 2018 2019 2020
1 Andhra Pradesh 7   6 7
2 Arunachal Pradesh 0 0 0
3 Assam 7 8 4
4 Bihar 12 15 3
5 Chhattisgarh 1 1 1
6 Goa 1 0 0
7 Gujarat 9 10 8
8 Haryana 5 5 6
9 Himachal Pradesh 0 1 0
10 Jharkhand 0 1 1
11 Karnataka 7   7 5
12 Kerala 8 8 11
13 Madhya Pradesh 9 12 13
14 Maharashtra 7 10 7
15 Manipur 1 0 0
16 Meghalaya 0 0 2
17 Mizoram 0 0 0
18 Nagaland 0 0 0
19 Odisha 13 10 11
20 Punjab 12 11 6
21 Rajasthan 8 9 3
22 Sikkim 0 0 0
23 Tamil Nadu 7 9 2
24 Telegana 10 3 4
25 Tripura 2 4 3
26 Uttar Pradesh 40 45 30
27 Uttarakhand 1 3 1
28 West Bengal 50 59 51
29 A&N Islands 0 0 0
30 Chandigarh 0 0 0
31 D&N Haveli and Daman & Diu+ 0 0 0
32 Delhi 11 10 2
33 Jammu & Kashmir 0 0 0
34 Ladakh 0 0 0
35 Lakshadweep 0 0 0
36 Pondicherry 0 0 0
  Total UT (S) 11 12 3
  Total (All India) 228 249 182
Source: NCRB

Conclusion
The most heinous and frequently gender-specific kind of violence that is documented is acid attacks. Even though there have been reports of acid assaults all around the world, India has seen an increase in these cases. Although the beginning of legal improvements in the acid attack laws is encouraging, there is still a very difficult and long run journey to go until these provisions are fully implemented.

Although it is acknowledged that new legislation requires time to take effect and evolve as a result of the judiciary's dynamism, some of the first problems require to be fixed. In light of the nature and seriousness of the violation, the present acid attack regulations and judicial attitude to the magnitude of damages are severely constrained.

It has also been discussed how important it is to create a distinct law in this area given the gaps in Indian law. Because it appears that the act was premeditated and required a great deal of malice on the side of the perpetrator, it should be penalised harshly. In addition, fair compensation for the victim is a crucial clause for upholding the rule of law.

End-Notes:
  1. (2014) 4 SCC 427
  2. Para 17 of judgment
  3. Para 39 of the judgment
  4. https://www.indiatoday.in/diu/story/india-saw-almost-1-500-acid-attacks-in-five-years-1636109-2020-01-12
Written By: Anas Ali - Student of B.A.LL.B (Hons.) in Faculty of Law, Aligarh Muslim University

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