Report No. 226
A Brief Overview
A Statistical Overview:
While very little data is available on acid attacks in India some studies have reported an increasing trend in cases relating to acid attack. According to a study 174 cases of acid attack were reported in India in 2000. This was a per capita incidence of about 1/15 of that of Bangladesh, which has the highest incidence rate as well as the highest number of acid attack cases in the world. However, the absolute number of cases was approaching those of Bangladesh.1
1. Acid Attacks: Bangladesh's Efforts to Stop the Violence, Jordan Swanson, Harvard Health Policy Review Archives, Spring 2002; Vol 3, No 1.
35 cases of acid attacks were reported in Karnataka between 1999 and 20042 This figure does not include victims that do not report their case because they fear further violence or being socially stigmatized. In this regard, the Campaign and Struggle Against Acid Attacks on Women (CSAAAW) noted one incidence in Bangalore in July 2004 that was not included as part of the reported cases partly because the victim and her family have opted not to go public with their trauma3.
The number of cases added up to 53 by 2006 in Karnataka and, as reported by the CSAAAW, verdicts were given in only 9 of these 53 cases4. A newspaper report5 put the total number of acid attacks as 60 by 2007 in Karnataka alone adding 8 more cases till February 2007.
2. Burnt Not Defeated, Report by CSAAAW, April 2007, CSAAAW Bangalore publication.
3. The Hindu, Another Face of Violence, 15.08.2004.
4. The Hindu, PIL filed for steps to curb acid attacks, 20.09.2006.
5. The Hindu, The 'acid test': will Government regulate sale of deadly chemicals?, Bageshree S. and M.V. Chandrashekhar, 5 February 2007.
In most of these cases Hydrochloric and sulphuric acid were used and all the victims were women. The victims in Karnataka were very young women between 16 and 25 years of age, and were attacked by men known to them. Most attacks took place in public places or at home.6
6. Deccan Herald News Service, Bangalore, Acid test of Humanity, Bala Chauhan.
These cases showed the kind of injuries that victims of acid attack suffered. The injuries range from burns to permanent disfigurement to death. In many acid attacks the victim suffers a slow and painful death. On the other hand, some victims who do survive the attack like Hasina7 (in April 1999) and Shruti (in October 2001) are permanently disfigured, maimed and confined to homes for life.8Acid attack survivors are physically, psychologically and socially traumatized. The physical extents of their injuries are deep, permanent and have a direct impact on their psychological well-being and social functionality.
7. State of Karnataka Vs. Joseph Rodrigues, Decided by the Hon'ble Karnataka High Court on 22-8-2006.
8. The Hindu, The 'acid test': will Government regulate sale of deadly chemicals?, Bageshree S. and M.V. Chandrashekhar, 5 February 2007.
Hydrochloric, Sulphuric and other acids all have a catastrophic effect on human flesh. These corrosive substances cause the skin tissue to melt. The bones of victims become exposed and sometimes the acid dissolves the bones too. Permanent scars as can be seen in Hasina's 1 case disfigure a human being's body for life. Furthermore, if acid enters the eyes of the victim during an attack, as is common in acid attack cases, it damages these vital organs permanently. Many acid attack survivors have lost the use of one or both eyes.
1. State of Karnataka Vs. Joseph Rodrigues, Decided by the Hon'ble Karnataka High Court on 22-8-2006.
As a result of disfigurement and disability victims are permanently debilitated and are forced to give up their lives, their work, their education. In this regard, compensation to cover vital surgeries for victims who can no longer support themselves becomes imperative.
However aside from compensation there are other points as well that the law should be sensitized to when it comes to dealing with acid attack victims. In an interview with the Hindu newspaper CSAAAW's lawyer, Sheela Ramanathan, pointed out that acid attack victims had to be handled separately as their situation entails a series of "medical complications, social stigma, psychological trauma, gender bias and a complete loss of livelihood."2 Ms. Ramanathan particularly drew attention to the medical negligence on these victims:
"Medical awareness on the mode of treatment is also abysmal," "(t)here have been cases where coconut oil had been applied on the affected area and the victim wrapped in blankets, Such mishandling can cause irreparable damage.2
2. The Hindu, PIL filed for steps to curb acid attacks, 20.09.2006