Report No. 226
The Inclusion of Acid Attacks as Specific Offences in the Indian Penal Code and a law for Compensation for Victims of Crime
The victim of a gruesome acid attack, Laxmi, has filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court of India in May, 2006 in which the Law Commission of India has been arrayed as the Respondent No.2. Though the Law Commission had pointed out to the Court that the reliefs in the petition cannot be prayed for from the Law Commission, it has decided to take up the matter suo moto in view of the gravity of the offence of acid attacks.
Acid attacks are becoming a growing phenomenon in India. Laxmi's case is an example of what normally occurs in such cases. The petition states that Laxmi, a young girl, was subject to an acid attack following her refusal to marry the accused. As a result of the attack the victim's arms, face and other body parts were severely disfigured and deformed.
Though the victim and her parents were/are poor they were fortunately helped by a benefactor who bore the medical expenses approximating to Rs. 2.5 Lakhs. However, even after 4 plastic surgeries the victim's physical appearance remains horrific and many more surgeries would be required to make her physical appearance a semblance of what it was. The victim can of course never look as she did before the attack.
Though acid attack is a crime which can be committed against any man or woman, it has a specific gender dimension in India. Most of the reported acid attacks have been committed on women, particularly young women for spurning suitors, for rejecting proposals of marriage, for denying dowry etc. The attacker cannot bear the fact that he has been rejected and seeks to destroy the body of the woman who has dared to stand up to him.
Thus, acid throwing is an extremely violent crime by which the perpetrator of the crime seeks to inflict severe physical and mental suffering on his victim. As stated above this kind of violence is often motivated by deep-seated jealousy or feelings of revenge against a woman. For instance, in Bangladesh 78 percent of the reported acid violence is inflicted on women with the most common reasons for attack being the refusal of marriage, the denial of sex, and the rejection of romance.1. The acid is usually thrown at the victim's face.
The perpetrator wants to disfigure the victims and turn them into a monster. Aside from the reasons stated above the other reasons for acid attacks include robbery, land disputes etc. Perpetrators of the crime act cruelly and deliberately. Acid violence is a premeditated act of violence as the perpetrator of the crime carries out the attack by first obtaining the acid, carrying it on him and then stalking the victim before executing the act.
1. Acid Survivors Foundation. Acid Throwing Fact Sheet. Dhak, Bangladesh, 2001.
Furthermore, an acid attack has long-lasting consequences on the life of the victim who faces perpetual torture, permanent damage and other problems for the rest of her life. Victims normally feel worthless, afraid and modified and become social outcasts because of their appearance. They may become too traumatized and embarrassed to walk out of their house and carry out simple tasks let alone get married, have children, get a job, go to school, etc.
Even if they are willing to pursue a normal life, there is no guarantee that society itself will treat them as normal human beings given their appearance and disabilities after an attack. They may not be able to work, or be able to find a job, and thus perpetually struggle to survive.1
1. Baseline Survey with International Comparative Analysis of the Legal Aspects of Acid Violence in Uganda, Commissioned by: Acid Survivors Foundation Uganda with funding support from the US Democracy & Human Rights Fund, Legal Consultant: Rachel Forster, November, 2004.
It has been contended by those working for these victims that the Criminal law relating to grievous hurts in Sections 320, 322, 325 and 326 of the Indian Penal Code (I.P.C) is insufficient to deal with the phenomenon of acid attacks. Section 320 deals with grievous hurt and reads as under-
Section 320. Grievous hurt. - The following kinds of hurt only are designated as as "grievous":-
First. - Emasculation.
Secondly. - Permanent privation of the sight of either eye.
Thirdly. - Permanent privation of the hearing of either ear,
Fourthly. - Privation of any member or joint.
Fifthly. -Destruction or permanent impairing of the powers of any member or joint
Sixthly. - Permanent disfiguration of the head or face.
Seventhly. - Fracture or dislocation of a bone or tooth.
Eighthly. - Any hurt which endangers life or which causes the sufferer to be during the space of twenty days in severe bodily pain, or unable to follow his ordinary pursuits.
This definition of grievous hurt has been criticised as the definition does not take within its purview the various kinds of deliberate hurt that is inflicted on important parts of a female's body nor does this definition apply to offences like acid attack in which multiple types of grievous hurts occur.
Section 3222IPC defines voluntarily causing grievous hurt.and section 3253 IPC provides for punishment for grievous hurt. The offence is punishable by imprisonment upto seven years and is cognizable, bailable, and compoundable as well as being triable by a first class Magistrate. The offence of grievous hurt is not caused unless the offender both causes grievous hurt and intends, or knows himself to be likely, to cause grievous hurt.
2. Section 322. voluntarily Causing grievous hurt.- Whoever voluntarily causes hurt, if the hurt which the intends to cause or knows himself to be likely to cause if grievous hurt, and if the hurt which he cause is grievous hurt, is said to "voluntarily to cause grievous hurt"
Explanation. - A person is not said voluntarily to cause grievous hurt except when he both causes grievous hurt and intends or knows himself to be likely to cause grievous hurt. But he is said voluntarily to cause grievous hurt, if intending or knowing himself to be likely to cause grievous hurt of one kind; he actually causes grievous hurt of another kind.
3. Section 325. Punishment for voluntarily causing grievous hurt.- Whoever, except in the case provided for by section 335(Voluntarily causing grievous hurt on provocation), voluntarily causes grievous hurt, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to seven years, and shall also be liable to fine.
Section 326 of the Indian Penal Code which applies in cases of voluntarily causing grievous hurt by means of any corrosive substance is punishable with imprisonment for life or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to 10 years and fine.1 Thus, punishment for voluntarily causing grievous hurt even by corrosive substances like Acid can be imprisonment for life or with imprisonment for a term which may extend to 10 years. It has been argued that this period of punishment does not match the gravity of the offence.
1. Section 326 Voluntarily causing grievous hurt by dangerous weapons or means- Whoever , except in the case provided for by section 335, voluntarily causes grievous hurt by means of any instrument for shooting, stabbing or cutting , or any instrument which , used as a weapon of offence , is likely to cause death, or by means of fire or any heated substance, or by means of any poison or any corrosive substance, or by means of any explosive substance, or by means of any substance which it is deleterious to the human body to inhale , to swallow, or to receive into the blood, or by means of any animal, shall be punished with imprisonment for life or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine The petition argues that though in some cases like the petitioner's case Section 307 of the I.P.C has been applied, even this is not enough as courts tend to grant bail easily in cases of Section 307 I.P.C and mens rea is extremely difficult to prove.
The Laxmi Writ petition further states that compensation to victims of acid attacks is of vital importance as huge medical costs are often involved. The victims of acid attack need both short term as well as long term specialized medical treatments and plastic surgeries. The provisions in the Indian law for giving compensation to the victims are insufficient. The writ petition therefore prays that:
- An amendment be made in the Indian Penal Code, Evidence Act and the Criminal Procedure Code for dealing with acid attack as a special offence;
- Guidelines be framed and an act be passed to attend to the needs of all the acid attack victims in India;
- A committee be constituted and appointed for adopting measures for the proper treatment, aftercare and rehabilitation of the victims of acid attacks;
- That acid in all forms be made a scheduled banned chemical which is not readily available over the counter.
It is therefore important to examine and analyse the various provisions of the Indian Penal Code to see whether the law as it exists in India is sufficient to deal with the phenomenon of acid attacks. The Law Commission has also examined the laws relating to acid attacks in different countries before giving its recommendations, both for punishing the perpetrators of these attacks and for monetary and economic rehabilitation of the victim of the attack.