Gender Violence in India Report 2014: Acid Attacks

An acid attack is the premeditated act of throwing concentrated acid (usually sulfuric, nitric, or hydrochloric acid) on the body of another person. The purpose of this is to intentionally disfigure and cause extreme physical and emotional pain to the victim.[1]

The effects of acid attacks include blindness, disfiguration of the face and body, scarring, and long-term psychosocial and economic difficulties. Treatment for acid violence can include multiple expensive surgeries, physical therapy, and long-term medical care, which are often out of reach for many victims due to geographic isolation, the prohibitive costs of hospitalization and specialized care, and lack of appropriate medical facilities.[2]

While acid attacks occur in many countries around the world, they are particularly prevalent in South Asia, and ‘perpetrators’ motives are often tied to gender inequality and discrimination’.[3] In India, acid attacks are most commonly perpetrated against women, often in retaliation for ‘spurning suitors, for rejecting proposals of marriage, [or] for denying dowry’.[4] The types of acid used for these attacks can be bought easily and inexpensively in many neighborhood stores and until 2013, the sale of acid was not regulated by any governing body.[5]

The Avon Global Center for Women and Justice also reports that a majority of acid attacks in India, about 61% out of those reported in news media, occur in public spaces like bus stands, road sides, trains, schools, colleges, and markets.[6] Acid attacks may also harm bystanders and relatives in addition to the primary intended victim.

Know the Law

In the 2013 Criminal Law Amendment Act, the Indian Penal Code was amended to include a specific category for acid attacks. According to Section 326B of the Amendment, attempting to throw or administer acid with intent to deform, maim or burn another person can be punished with five to seven years in prison, plus a fine. According to Section 326A, anyone who ‘causes permanent or partial damage or deformity to’ or ‘maims or disfigures’ another person by intentionally throwing acid shall be punished with a minimum sentence of ten years’ imprisonment, plus a fine. Sentences up to life in prison may be issued.[7]

In 2013, the Indian government reclassified acids as a poison, bringing them under the regulatory purview of the Poison Act of 1919. This Act empowers state governments to regulate the safe possession, sale and registration of substances designated as poisons. Including acids in this category means buyers of over-the-counter concentrated acids must provide proof of identity to the retailer upon purchase.[8] Retailers must also register the purchase and the address of the buyer, and concentrated acids can no longer be bought by individuals under the age of 18. While this is a national ruling, the responsibility to implement the law remains with state governments.[9] Data on whether the ruling has reduced the frequency of acid attacks in India are not yet available. However, Bangladesh saw a 15-20% decrease in the number of acid attacks following the adoption in 2002 of laws to limit access to acids and increase criminal penalties; this suggests that such laws can be effective in decreasing acid attacks.[10] As of September 2014, however, few states have implemented the new laws, and compensation and medical help for victims often remain mired in inter-departmental confusion.[11]

Keeping Count

The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) has yet to publish data on acid attacks, as they were only recognized as a distinct category of crime in 2013. The Acid Survivors Trust International, an organization dedicated to preventing acid attacks and supporting victims, estimates that between 500 and 1000 acid attacks occur annually in India, based on comparison with neighboring countries that do publish data.[12] The Avon Center report ‘Combating Acid Violence in Bangladesh, India, and Cambodia’ tracked news reports of acid attacks in India from January 2002 to October 2010, as a proxy for the actual prevalence of attacks. Table 1 and Figure 1 below show the number of acid attacks reported across all the news sources examined in the report. Note that the actual number of attacks is almost certainly orders of magnitude greater than the number that make it into the news. However, if the rising number of news articles is in fact at least partly due to greater numbers of attacks and not simply to increased media attention, the report suggests that acid attacks have been on the rise in recent years.

Table 1: Acid Attacks in News Reports, 2002-2010[13]

Year 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010
Number of acid attacks reported in news 4 6 10 22 19 19 25 21 27

 Figure 1

Acid Graphic

Statistics and surveys of acid attack survivors show that acid violence is often connected to other forms of gender violence. A survey of 56 women in Karnataka who survived acid attacks between 1999 and 2007 found that 55 of them knew their attacker. All of the women surveyed stated that, prior to the acid attack, they had experienced other forms of gender violence or harassment, including workplace harassment, domestic violence or dowry demands.[15]

[1] ‘Combating acid violence in Bangladesh, India, and Cambodia’, Avon Global Center for Women and Justice at Cornell Law School  et al, 2011, p. 1-2, http://www.ohchr.org/documents/hrbodies/cedaw/harmfulpractices/avonglobalcenterforwomenandjustice.pdf, accessed 21st November 2014. This report examined news reports of acid attacks in India from January 2002 to October 2010; it also studied reports of acid attacks in Bangladesh and Cambodia.

[2] ‘Burnt not defeated: Women fight against acid attacks in Karnataka’, Campaign and Struggle Against Acid Attacks on Women (CSAAAW), 2007, pg 28, http://www.lawschool.cornell.edu/womenandjustice/upload/burnt-not-defeated.pdf, accessed 21st November 2014.

[3] ‘Combating acid violence’, Avon Center, p. 9. See above note 1.

[4] ‘Report on the inclusion of acid attacks as specific offenses in the Indian Penal Code and a law for compensation of victims of crime’, Law Commission of India, 2008, p. 3, http://lawcommissionofindia.nic.in/reports/report226.pdf, accessed 21st November 2014.

[5] Mahapatra, D., ‘Government to treat acid as poison, regulate sales’, Times of India, 17th July 2014, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Government-to-treat-acid-as-poison-regulate-sales/articleshow/21111357.cms?referral=PM, accessed 21st November 2014.

[6] ‘Combating acid violence’, Avon Center, p. 14. See above note 1.

[7] Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, Ch. 2(5), http://indiacode.nic.in/acts-in-pdf/132013.pdf, accessed 8th October 2014. Sec. 5 of the Act inserts Sections 326A and 326B into the Indian Penal Code.

[8] Poisons Act, 1919, Sec. 2(a-g), http://www.health.mp.gov.in/acts/poison-act-1919-2.pdf, accessed 21st November 2014.

[9] Mahapatra, D., ‘Government to treat acid as poison, regulate sales’. See above note 5.

[10] ‘Combating acid violence’, Avon Center, p. 12. See above note 1.

[11] Dasgupta, K., ‘Acid attack survivors in India find safe space but little legal respite’, The Guardian, 9th September 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2014/sep/09/acid-attacks-india-legal-respite, accessed 22nd November 2014.

[12] ‘Where it happens: India’, Acid Violence, Acid Survivors Trust International, http://www.acidviolence.org/index.php/acid-violence/countries/india, accessed 22nd November 2014.

[13] Table 1 adapted from data provided in ‘Combating acid violence’, Avon Center, p. 11. See above note 1. Note that the data for 2010 only go up to October.

[14] Figure 1 adapted from ‘Combating acid violence’, Avon Center, p. 11. See above note 1.

[15] ‘Burnt not defeated’, CSAAAW, 2007, pg 30. See above note 2.

 

*****

This series of posts were researched, drafted and edited by Divya Bhat, Shakthi Manickavasagam, Titiksha Pandit and Mitha Nandagopalan.

December 2014

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