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Violation Of Constitutional Rights: Acid Attacks Against Women

Women comprise half of the world's population. In spite of all development and growth, women are still victims of horrific scrims. Crimes against women are of various types and acid attack is one of the forms of violence against women. An acid attack is that form of violence in which acid or other acidic substance is thrown at a person most commonly on women with intention to killing or torturing her and the most common reasons behind attack are the refusal of marriage, male honor, land disputes, dowry and refutation of sex.

The Constitution of India also contains provision for granting remedies and securing safe-guards against such heinous crime under the head of Fundamental Rights and DPSPs. Victims of acid attack face lifetime physical, social, psychological and economic consequences.

It becomes difficult for the victims to work thus; acid attack violates the right to life, right to employment and various other fundamental rights hence the protection is given under Article 12-35 of the Indian Constitution though it does not deal with it specifically. Until recent times, there were no specific provisions in Indian legal system dealing with the heinous crime of Acid attack.

With the increase in cases, law machinery was stirred up and set in motion. After the suggestions made by 226th Law Commission Report and Justice J.S Verma Committee, specific provisions dealing with acid attack crimes were introduced. By virtue of Criminal Law (Amendment Act) 2013, Section 326A and 326B were inserted in the Indian Penal Code providing punishment for acid attack and attempted acid attack making it a separate, cognizable and non-bailable offence under IPC.

INTRODUCTION:
The term violence against women includes a huge number of abuses directed at women and girls over the life span. The UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women (defines violence against women as: "any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life".

This statement defines violence as acts that cause, or have likely to cause harm, and by introducing the term "gender based" highlights that it is rooted in inequality between women and men.[1] The term gender based violence has been defined as "acts or threats of acts intended to hurt or make women suffer physically, sexually or psychologically, and which affect women because they are women or affect women dis-proportionally".

Thus, gender based violence is often used interchangeably with violence against women. Both these definitions point at violence against women as a result of gender inequality. This inequality can be described as favoritism in opportunities and responsibilities and in access to and control of resources that is rooted in the socio culturally recognized notion of maleness as higher to femaleness.[2]

Cruelty against women is the most enveloping human rights violation in today's world which is the reason and the consequences of unfairness and discrimination.[3] Acid attack is one of the horrific violence which is committed against women, with aim to disfigure.[4]
  1. Meaning Of Acid Attack:

    Acid throwing or vitriol age is a type of brutal assault. Perpetrators of these attacks throw acid on the victims (generally on their faces), burning them, damaging skin tissue, often exposing and sometimes dissolving the bones.[5]The National Commission of India defined acid attack as "any act of throwing acid or using acid in any form on the victim with the intention of or with knowledge that such act 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.
     
  2. Acid Attack: Violation Of Constitutional Rights:

    The Constitution of India strongly reflects the Country's deep commitment to guard and promotes human rights. It confers a number series of rights upon women. The preamble which is called as mirror of an Indian constitution itself underlines the commitment towards securing for all its citizens.

    The constitution guarantees basic human rights and fundamental freedoms to all without any discrimination[6]. The Constitution of India safeguards woman's right by putting her at par with man socially, politically and economically. The principle of the gender equality is enshrined in the constitution in its Preamble, Fundamental Rights, Directive Principles of State Policy and Fundamental Duties, with some other provisions, i.e. right to vote, and reservation in local self-Government.

    However, still there is a very wide slit between the goals enunciated in the constitution, legislation, policies, plans, programs and related mechanism on the one hand and the situational reality of the status of women in India on the other.[7]

    For complete development as human beings, enjoyment of human rights by women is also essential. But the consequences of acid attack are also there. Acid Attack has several adverse impacts on women's rights. Women victims of acid attacks have been denied to enjoy basic human rights because of violence of acid attack committed against them. Some of the major human rights and constitutional rights, denied to victims are as follows:
    1. Right To Life And Right To Live With Human Dignity:

      Acid attack results into several physical injuries to sufferers. Acid attack affects the victims' physical appearance. For example, if acid is thrown on face of a woman, it speedily affects eyes, ears, nose, eyelids, mouth and lips etc. The whole face of the victims loses its individuality and they look awful. They lost all charm of their life. It amounts violation of right to life and right to live with human dignity guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.

      The Supreme Court particularly in the case of Francis Coralie Mullin vs. Administration of Union Territory of Delhi[8]has also declared right to live with human dignity as part of right to life under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. Therefore the acid is thrown on the body of the young girls or women which means they have been deprived from their right to lead a dignified, honorable and peaceful life with dignity.
       
    2. Right To Get Efficient Legal Remedy:

      Newspaper investigation reveals that it is difficult for poor victim to access legal system of the country because it is costly. The lack of monetary support to victims of acid attack closes the door of the courts for them. Luckily, if some of the victims are able to access to court, then the slow moving wheel of justice obstruct their path to get justice.

      The Supreme Court in many cases has declared that right to speedy justice to all is a fundamental human right. Sadly the victims or their families have been deprived from enjoying human right of legal remedy guaranteed in Indian Constitution, in Universal Declaration of Human rights (UDHR) and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) etc.
       
    3. Right to Personal Liberty and Freedom of Movement:

      After acid attack the victims feels like their skin is burning away. The victims frightened to go out and they feel shy because they have lost their personality or individuality. Under such situation they cannot enjoy their personal liberty and freedom. Perhaps this is the greatest consequences of acid violence against women that they are forced to remain in fear. It affects women's empowerment and mobility.

      The Constitution of India secures all its citizens individual liberty through Article 21. Furthermore, Article 19 (1) (d) of Constitution of India talks about freedom of movement for every citizen of India within its territory. Obstruction of movement due to acid attack and fear of another acid attack, both are inhuman activities and amounts to violation of constitutional rights.
       
    4. Rights against Exploitation and right to shelter:

      The victims of acid attack find themselves neglected by their husbands and their family members and the reason behind abandonment may be her physic which now has turned horrific and shattered due to acid attack. The physical deformities caused by acid attack and lack of family support victims are subject to exploitation. When a victim of acid attack is disowned and evicted from her house by her husbands or by her family members, it means that she has been deprived of enjoying right to shelter. The right against exploitation and right to shelter both have been declared human rights in several International human rights instruments for which India is signatory.
       
    5. Right to Education and get Uninterrupted Education:

      The right to education has been acknowledged as a human right in a number of International Conventions, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural rights which recognizes a right to free, compulsory primary education for all. Right to education is also a fundamental right for the children to avail free and compulsory education.[9]

      The State shall grant early childhood care and education for all children up to 6 years of age.[10] Most of the victims of acid attack have been young girls which challenge constitutional assurance to make education accessible to all. The Right to Education[11] and right to get uninterrupted education[12] have been incorporated in the part of fundamental rights so that those rights can be enforceable in a court of law and can be enjoyed by all without any barrier. The movement a school going child becomes a victim of acid attack it means that she has been deprived of enjoying these rights.
       
    6. Right To Access To Medical Services:

      The acid attack survivors faced several medical complications. The major among them is that family cannot afford for the extensive surgeries which is required to build up the injured face of the victim. In case of acid attack, surgeries are performed at different stages to provide a person a close resemblance to their earlier look. Surgical operations cost the victim from minimum two lakhs to several lakhs which is not affordable by all.

      Many of the victims remain like a living dead body after acid attacks. No doubt State has provided free and proper health facilities to all but easy accessibility to health facilities and services are not within victim's safe physical reach. [13]

      The Constitution of India inflicts a duty on the State to grant proper health facilities to all.[14] The Apex Court in India has also made right to medical assistance[15] as a basic human right of citizens but unfortunately the lack of financial support and exclusive medical treatment, denies basic right to medical-treatment to victims.
       
    7. Right to Economic Empowerment and Livelihood:

      The victims of acid attack faced harsh economic hardships after the attack. Acid attacks affect their employment opportunities. The disfigured personality makes them difficult to do job. For e.g. victims who have got serious disability due to acid attack, like blindness, will not able to find jobs and if they are already in jobs then they may not be able to carry that occupation, trade or business, even if they recover to the extent that they are fit for employment, employers may not be willing to take back people with such physical deformities. Article 14, 21, 38, 39 along with Preamble to the Constitution, the Supreme Court has ruled that right to economic empowerment of the weaker section of the society constitute fundamental right.[16] The Court further declared that right to economic empowerment to the dalits, tribes and the poor is a part of distributive justice.[17]

Conclusion And Suggestions:
Acid attack is such a heinous crime which has long lasting impact on the life of the victim. Victims suffers a lot which we can't even imagine their whole life ruins, they become traumatized they faces continuous torture.

No doubt Indian has laws as regards to acid attack but somewhere legislative machinery failed to provide justice to the victims and justice is never provided until and unless the law is properly implemented. So to provide justice to the acid attack survivors we require a separate tribunal to deal with acid attack cases so that justice shall be delivered speedily. There is need to regulate sale of acid because acid is easily available in the market. The Compensation to the victims should be increased.

End-Notes:
  1. Gunilla Krantz, Claudia Garcia-Moreno," Violence Against Women", available at https://jech.bmj.com/content/59/10/818 (last visited on May 23, 2022
  2. Ibid.
  3. Biplob Kanti Mondal and Siddiqur Rubel, "Causes and Consequences of Acid Violence-A Case of Bangladesh", available at http://catalog.ihsn.org/citations/42131 (last visited on May 23, 2022).
  4. Ibid.
  5. Rahul Chakrabotry, "Acid attack: A Call for Legislation", Vol.9, Lawz, p.49, (July, 2009).
  6. Dr Harish Verma, "Acid Attacks against women in India: The human rights perspective". Vol. XL (2) Indian Bar Review, p. 82, (2013).
  7. Malik & Raval, "Law and Social Transformation in India", Allahabad Law Agency, 3rd ed., 2012 at p. 163.
  8. AIR 1981 SC 746.
  9. Article 21A of the Constitution of India says the State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of six to fourteen years in such manner as the State may, by law, determine.
  10. Article 45 of the Constitution of India says the State shall endeavor to provide early childhood care and education for all children until they complete the age of six years
  11. Unni Krishnan v. State of Andhra Pradesh, AIR 1993 SC 2178. The Supreme Court held that right to basic education is implied by the fundamental right to life (Article 21).
  12. Sathyavan Kotarakkara v. State AIR 1993, Ker.133. The Kerala High Court held that right to uninterrupted education is a fundamental right guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India, read with directive principle of State policy.
  13. Ibid.
  14. Article 47 of the Constitution of India says the State shall regard the raising of the level of nutrition and the standard of living of its people and the improvement of public health as among its primary duties and, in particular, the State shall endeavor to bring about prohibition of the consumption except for medicinal purposes of intoxicating drinks and of drugs which are injurious to health.
  15. Pt Parmanand Katara v. U.O.I., AIR 1989 SC 2039.
  16. Murlidhar Dayandeo v. Vishwanath Pandu Borde (1995) 2 SCC 549.
  17. Ibid.

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