Recent Resources for Feminists
Poland: Thousands of black-clad women protest against proposed near-total abortion ban Print E-mail
~ Tuesday October 4, 2016, page A7

Protesters in Poland Rally Against Proposal for Total Abortion Ban

By JOANNA BERENDTOCT.
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Video "Voices from the Abortion-Bill Protest" by NATALIA V. OSIPOVA

A proposal to ban abortions in Poland, even in cases of rape and when a woman’s life is in danger, sparked so-called Black Monday rallies in several European cities.
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WARSAW ­ Despite pouring rain and a chill in the air, Anna Pietruszka-Drozdz, together with as many as 24,000 other Polish women and men, skipped work on Monday and instead came to Castle Square in Warsaw, dressed in black, to protest a sweeping new anti-abortion bill.

“A complete and total abortion ban? This is beyond my wildest nightmares,” said Ms. Pietruszka-Drozdz, 37, a mother of two. “Women don’t have abortions because they are promiscuous and it’s convenient. They do it because they need to, and it’s often the most traumatic decision ever.”

On Black Monday, as it was called, huge protests against the new legislation swept through 90 Polish cities. The Warsaw mayor’s office said 24,000 Poles took to the streets of the capital, waving black flags to draw international attention to the proposed restrictions. On the event’s Facebook page, organizers said the protest drew up to 116,000 participants nationwide.

Poland’s existing abortion law is already one of the most restrictive in Europe. Abortion is permitted in only three cases: a severe fetal anomaly, a threat to the mother’s health and life, or a pregnancy from rape or sexual abuse.

Under the proposed legislation, written by an organization called Stop Abortion, all abortions would be criminalized. Women, doctors and anyone who assisted with the procedure could face up to five years in prison.

“This is a barbarian proposal that will move Poland back to medieval times,” Barbara Nowacka, the leader of a liberal initiative, Save Women, said in a telephone interview. “The worst thing is that this barbarity finds approval in the eyes of those in power.”

Black Monday was the high point of protests that began two weeks ago. On social media, tens of thousands of Poles have posted pictures of themselves wearing black and staging demonstrations.

Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski dismissed the protesters, saying, “Let them have their fun.”

“There is no such problem as a threat to women’s rights,” he said in an interview with a private radio station, RMF-FM. “If someone thinks that there are no greater concerns in Poland at the moment, let them be.”

The protests have won the approval of numerous Polish employers, including restaurant owners, museum and gallery directors, the deans of several universities and mayors of a couple of large cities, all of whom allowed their female workers to take a day off.

The protest idea was inspired by the story of Icelandic women who paralyzed their country in 1975 by not going to work, and skipping housework and child-rearing tasks, to protest unfair employment practices and wage discrepancies. The women who participated in those protests sent the women in Poland a video message of solidarity, encouraging them to stand up for themselves and telling them in Polish, “Jestesmy z wami” (“we are with you”). On Facebook, Kenyan women also sent a message of solidarity.

The solidarity protests were also staged in other European cities, including Berlin, Brussels, London, Paris and Barcelona, Spain.

Poland introduced a restrictive abortion law, known as the “abortion compromise” and championed by the Roman Catholic Church, in 1993 after the collapse of Communism.

The church, which continues to be a powerful influence in this predominantly Catholic country, is often accused of exerting pressure on politicians. It actively supports the proposed legislation, though church leaders have said they oppose punishing women.

According to official figures, around 1,000 legal abortions are performed in Poland every year. Estimates of the number of illegal terminations vary widely, from 10,000 to 120,000, from anti-abortion and abortion rights groups.

“The abortion compromise was supposed to curb the number of illegal terminations and increase the number of births in Poland,” Ms. Nowacka said. “It has failed miserably on both accounts. We need a new law that actually corresponds with reality.”

Critics of the legislation, which is supported by senior members of the right-wing government, argue that if the bill is passed, doctors will stop performing invasive procedures on pregnant women, even to correct a fetal defect, unless the woman’s life is directly threatened. That is the only exception under which doctors could undertake a procedure and avoid prosecution if it ended in a miscarriage.

Dr. Romuald Debski, the head of gynecology and obstetrics at Bielanski Hospital in Warsaw, said every invasive procedure carries a minor risk of miscarriage.

“This would be the end of prenatal diagnostics,” Dr. Debski said in an interview. “I couldn’t do basic prenatal tests, like the amniotic fluid test that allows me to determine whether I’m dealing with certain genetic disorders, such as Down syndrome. Should the procedure go wrong, I could end up in jail. I won’t risk that.”

Tomasz Latos, a member of the governing Law and Justice party and head of the Health Committee in the Polish Sejm, or lower house of Parliament, said viewing the legislation as a threat to prenatal diagnostics was “either an act of ill will or incompetence.”

“No one is saying that this bill will be even passed in the end,” he said. “Our senators are preparing a separate bill.”

Katarzyna Plutowska, 44, and Malgorzata Zyra, 39, took a day off from their accounting jobs to join a demonstration held near the Palace of Science and Culture in Warsaw.

“Due to the protest, our entire office is closed today,” Ms. Plutowska said. “You cannot change the world from your couch, you know.”
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 Monday October 3, 2016

Polish women strike against abortion ban

AFP
 
Warsaw: Thousands of black-clad women protested across Poland today against a proposed near-total abortion ban in the devoutly Catholic country, where the law is already among the most restrictive in Europe.

Pro-choice activists used social media to launch the country-wide "Women strike" protest, urging women to stay away from work and school to attend street protests.

Around 2,000 people rallied outside the Warsaw headquarters of the governing rightwing Law and Justice (PiS) party, forming a "wall of fury" human chain, an AFP journalist saw.

PiS lawmakers in late September pushed ahead with a controversial bill that would allow terminations only if the mother's life is at risk and increase the maximum jail term for practitioners from two years to five.

The citizen's initiative tabled in parliament by the Stop Abortion coalition would also make women who have terminations liable to prison terms, though judges could waive punishment in their case.

Poland's influential Catholic Church gave the initiative its seal of approval earlier this year, though its bishops have since opposed jailing women.


"I don't like what the Polish government is doing to women," protester Jolanta Bienicka told AFP.

"Unfortunately, we're going in the direction of countries like Afghanistan and the worst countries in the world."

Protester Katazyna Goluch, a 17-year-old high school student, told AFP that "no one has the right to decide what I am supposed to do with my uterus".

"If this law comes into effect and I'm raped and I get pregnant, I'll have to give birth. It's the same thing if the foetus is deformed, so we just have to say no."

Passed in 1993, the current law bans all terminations unless there was rape or incest, the pregnancy poses a health risk to the mother or the foetus is severely deformed.

A poll published this week by the Newsweek Polska magazine showed that 74 per cent of Poles want to keep the existing law.

The European Parliament is expected to debate women's rights in Poland on Wednesday.

Leena Yadav: Parched, a meditation on the treatment of women as objects of recreation & contempt Print E-mail
~ Thursday 22 September 2016

Review: 'Parched' is much more than a film

By IANS
 
Film: "Parched"

Writer-Director: Leena Yadav

Cast: Tannishtha Chatterjee, Radhika Apte, Surveen Chawla, Lehar Khan, Adil Hussain
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Long after "Parched" played out its poignant plot, I kept thinking about the four women at the forefront of Leena Yadav's sparkling saga of patriarchal tyranny. The enduring grief and the brief bouts of buoyancy that Rani (Tannishtha Chatterjee), Lajjo (Radhika Apte), Bijlee (Surveen Chawla) and Janaki (Lehar Khan) carry with themselves, lingers in our hearts and minds long after the last frame of this luminous work dies down.

The film is shot with such inescapable beauty by Russell Carpenter (who moves with fluent fecundity from the soggy sappiness of "Titanic" to the parched desertscape of this walloping work on women's empowerment), that you fear for the inner lives of the characters. Would their emotional existence be able to withstand the sheer extraneous splendor of the storytelling?

The answer, my friend, is blowing passionately in the winds. The winds of change, if you will. "Parched" is shot on location in the hearts of a glorious gallery of women who seem to have emerged from generations of oppression and longing into a tremulous, dim yet restorative and nourishing light to claim a place in the blue open skies.

"Parched" is a melancholic yet sunny meditation on feudal mindsets where women are treated as objects of recreation and contempt, to be used and discarded world. It's a brutal life for the childless Lajjo who gets thrashed by her sodden husband regularly, for Bijlee the 'nautanki' sex worker who satisfies masculine lustful urges at the drop of a ghagra, Rani a mother at 14 a widow at 17 and now a discarded hag at 35-plus, and tender little child-bride Janaki who is yanked from her parental home and raped by her randy drunken teenage husband (Riddhi Sen, outstandingly loutish) who visits prostitutes, discusses his wife's breasts with his friends and brags, "I am fulfilling my husbandly duties even when I don't like my wife."

Significantly, the writer-director creates two parallel universes for her women heroes. They are crestfallen shriveled dying flowers in their stifling domain of domesticity, but they blossom like summer flowers once together on joyrides in the outdoors, navigated into surreptitious excursions into ecstasy by the feisty Bijlee.

The bustling cosmos that "Parched" creates, comes dangerously close to over-reaching itself. Leena Yadav exercises enormous control and a profound empathy over the narrative. In this endeavour, she is vastly aided by editor Kevin Tent who displays remarkable ruthlessness over the cluttered material, leaving room for not a single superfluous moment.

"Parched" mirrors harsh home truths and dares to delve into areas of rural oppression and gender brutality that are normally not seen to be "relevant", or seen to be too relevant to matter.

In a sense, "Parched" mirrors the other side of the truth about sexism and the single girl from what we saw last week in "Pink". The women in this film are not sophisticated or urbane enough to fully fathom, let alone deal with their horrendous plight. Their sexual oppression goes hand in hand with their sexual innocence.

The way these women discuss their bodies and the sex act, or reach out for tenderness to countermand male brutality (I am sure they don't know the word 'lesbian') has never been seen in any Indian film, at least not the ones I've seen.

There is also a curious reversal of societal ground-rules where women are often seen to be the worst enemies of their own gender. In "Parched", all the women share a terrific kinship including Tannishtha's character with her bed-ridden dying mother-in-law.

Moving and counter-enforcing gender stereotypes, there is a stirring stimulating energetic and erotic energy flowing out of "Parched", as though the storyteller decides to pull out all stops to let her women characters speak their minds and act out their innermost fantasies, including one of the female heroes strange visit to a 'Mystic Baba' (Adil Hussain, suitably magnetic) who impregnates her. The sequence, a highpoint in the hoary history of female eroticism in Hindi cinema, is shot with a spiritual grace.

Curiously, the film's physical look reminded me of Kalpana Lajmi's "Rudali", while its spiritual personality echoes Shyam Benegal's "Ankur", especially the preamble where Sayani Gupta in a heartrending cameo, is forced by her parents to return to her sadistic 'sasural'.

A lot of the movie's tradition-scoffing narrative works because of her actors. The ever-dependable Tannishtha and Radhika are magnificent. Their empathetic erotic sisterhood is heartbreaking in its desperation. Radhika's comfort level with her physicality is stunningly refreshing for an Indian actress. When was the last time you saw an Indian actress slip out of her blouse facing the camera?

But the real surprise and the firecracker performer is Surveen Chawla. She furnishes her character of the devil-may-care prostitute with a quality of sublime seductiveness and unbridled sassiness.

I am not too happy with the way some of the male characters are painted in red, hastily relegated to a brutal zone just to play up the heroines' stunning sisterhood, which per se, is enchanting.

"Parched" celebrates the joie de vivre of shared grief among women who live their wretched lives on the edge and are only too happily to topple over when pushed and provoked. Sometimes, feminism doesn't need a full-blown messianic clarion call. A little tug, a firm push, will do. "Parched" hits us where it hurts the most.
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 Thursday September 22, 2016

‘I don’t fit into Bollywood formula films’

IANS

There was a five-year gap between her films Shabd and Teen Patti . Now director Leena Yadav is ready with Parched . Leena says that she takes long breaks after each film, “It’s very difficult for me to make films. I don’t fit into the typical Bollywood formula films.”

“Initially, my films were criticised. But by the time I was making Teen Patti , people were calling Shabd a cult film. I was trying to find my audience and I think I’ve found them with Parched .”

Parched traces the life of four women. The cast includes Tannishtha Chatterjee, Radhika Apte, Surveen Chawla, Adil Hussain, Lehar Khan and Sayani Gupta.

Leena says it is for a universal audience. “I don’t think Parched is for a niche audience at all. It’s Everyone can relate to the film. I have seen the film with a diverse audience and yet it’s so rooted in India.”

The Ajay Devgn-produced film, releasing in theatres on September 23, highlights the way society sees a widow and a sex worker, and also touches upon marital rape.
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~ Wednesday September 21 2016

Parched Movie Review

By Meena Iyer, TNN

Cast: Tannishtha Chatterjee, Radhika Apte, Surveen Chawla and Adil Hussain
Direction: Leena Yadav
Genre: Drama
Duration: 1 hour 58 minutes

Story: A widow, Rani (Tannishtha), a childless woman, Lajjo (Radhika) and a sex worker Bijli (Surveen) from a village in a North Western Region in India are victims of age-old traditions like child marriage, physical abuse, alcoholic husbands and social apathy. Will they be able to break the shackles?

Review: Leena Yadav's Parched takes you into a disturbing and thought-provoking territory. Even as it cleverly intertwines the stories of the three protagonists all of who have had a raw deal in life, it simultaneously puts the spotlight on how there is still an India where a woman is treated as a sex object; where her only role is to serve her man. Rani who was married off at 15 to an alcoholic Shankar has been widowed for 17 years and has to fend for herself and her callous son.

Lajjo, a village beauty, is declared 'barren' by her drunken husband and is subjected to physical abuse each day. Lajjo and Rani often seek solace in each other's company. When they get a break from making handicrafts, their rozi-roti, they bond with a sex worker called Biji (Surveen), who's had it rough for no fault of hers. The common ground for their bonding is a need for love, sex and compassion in that order.

The film addresses how there is nothing shameful about a woman's need for sex or ownership of her body. As the village women talk about their carnal desires, you empathise. Like last week's matinee offering Pink, you raise a toast to the director for raising some hard-hitting questions on the double standards of society. When Bijli asks, How come there are only abuses of the MC, BC variety or gaalis named only after women and none after men, you applaud. Frankly, like the film suggests, perhaps it is time to coin expletives after men too.

Academy-Award winning cinematographer, Russell Carpenter has captured the arid landscape beautifully. Parched is a roadmap for our oppressed female population who have been victims of a misogynist mindset for eons.

Tannishtha and Radhika are terrific, but it is Surveen who your heart bleeds for.

Australia: Pauline Hanson adds family violence & Muslims to Asian bigotry on return to parlaiment Print E-mail
 Thursday September 15 2016

Rosie Batty slams Pauline Hanson over maiden speech family violence comments

By Michael Koziol

Domestic violence campaigner Rosie Batty has slammed Pauline Hanson over her inflammatory maiden speech, branding the senator's tirade against the family law system an example of victim-blaming.

The One Nation leader made headlines for her claim that Australia was being "swamped by Muslims". But she also railed against the "discriminatory, biased and unworkable" family law system, and accused mothers of making "frivolous claims" to get sole custody of their children.

Family law leads to murders of 'frustration': Hanson

In her controversial maiden speech, Senator Pauline Hanson says the family court systems discriminate towards men.

Fathers were taking their own lives or murdering family members out of "sheer frustration" at the system, Senator Hanson claimed.

"Children have two parents and until we treat mums and dads with the same courtesy and rights, we will continue to see murders due to sheer frustration, depression and mental illness caused by their unworkable scheme," she said.
 
Rosie Batty says Pauline Hanson's claims about family violence were disappointing and wrong. (Getty Images)

Ms Batty, whose son Luke was killed by her ex-partner Greg Anderson in 2014, said those remarks fell into a well-established tradition of blaming the victim.

"People are not murdering because of the family law system. That idea is just another example of our victim-blaming mentality," she said.

"If Australia is being swamped by anything it's family violence. That's the real threat. One in four children are traumatised from being exposed to family violence and that's the emergency."


Ms Batty said the senator's comments were "very disappointing" at a time when family violence was receiving national attention and people were more familiar with the system's real shortcomings.
 
Senator Pauline Hanson delivers her first speech in the Senate. (Alex Ellinghausen)

"The safety and wellbeing of children must be the overriding priority," she told Fairfax Media. "Turning family law issues into men versus women, or mums versus dads, does nothing but make complex situations more challenging for all involved."

The 54-year-old was in Canberra this week to discuss the family law system with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and Greens leader Richard Di Natale.

Through the Luke Batty Foundation, Ms Batty is promoting a five-step reform agenda that would prioritise children's safety, early intervention and financial support for women and children.


Ms Batty said she would welcome the opportunity to discuss the family law system with Senator Hanson.

The One Nation leader targeted single mothers numerous times during her speech, claiming they were rorting the welfare system by having multiple children, and calling on the government to provide support for a maximum of one child only.


Minister for Women Michaelia Cash controversially hugged Senator Hanson following her first speech, and was forced to distance herself from the remarks on Thursday.

"I will never justify the murder of a female or a male. That is unacceptable and especially in situations of domestic violence," Senator Cash said.

"It was her maiden speech and I offered her goodwill as I do every other person in the chamber when they give their maiden speech."

Fairfax Media approached Senator Hanson for comment.

Cambodia: Lawless surrogacy hub emerges for womb renters post India's impending crackdown Print E-mail
 Monday September 19, 2016

Cambodia emerges as surrogacy hub

By  Roli Srivastava

 
A scientist works during an IVF process. While Cambodia has become popular among people seeking surrogates, doctors say it is ill-prepared to handle the rising demand. (AP)

With tougher laws in India, doctors and couples are increasingly moving to the east Asian nation.

Bhoomi Shah says she lives the good life in Ahmedabad. She has a well-paying job, has a car that she likes to drive around and lives in a bungalow with her parents, who have always supported her decisions and life choices. So last week, she packed her bags and made a quick three-day trip to Cambodia ­ not drawn to the east Aisa nation by the iconic Angkor Wat, but to rent a womb.

“I am 32 and I do not wish to get married. And getting a surrogate in India for a single person is now impossible,” she tells The Hindu over the phone. “I wanted a baby, who I am genetically linked to. So it made imminent sense to try surrogacy. But it is impossible in India so I searched on the Internet and found Cambodia offers it,” she says.

During her three-day trip, she visited the clinic where she will be making the egg donation and met four women who were willing to carry her child. “The women I met were Cambodian. My only criterion was that a healthy woman should carry my child,” says Ms Shah, who is scheduled to travel to Phnom Penh in October to start the surrogacy process – which will cost her around Rs 15 lakh.


With India toughening its stand on surrogacy, evident in the Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill 2016 which the Cabinet cleared last month, surrogacy service seekers, and even doctors have started moving to destinations that still allow this service.


While Cambodia has become popular among people ­ both Indians and from other parts of the world ­ countries such as Ukraine and Kenya are attracting doctors from India.

The big rush
Bhoomi Shah’s search for a surrogate was facilitated by Benhur Samson, CEO of Surrogacy Abroad, who has taken 23 sets of people to the country this year alone, of which six were from India.

“India is no longer on the surrogacy map and after Bangkok and Thailand stopped surrogacy, Cambodia opened up,” Mr Samson says, adding that this was the “first batch” that he has taken to Cambodia.


As in the early days of surrogacy in India, the lack of proper laws or guidelines in Cambodia has proved a big attraction. Medical tourism consultants such as Mr Samson say doctors from Thailand have set up infertility clinics here.

But the focus on Cambodia has its set of concerns.

“There is growth in surrogacy in Cambodia since last year. There is a huge pressure building and Cambodia is ill-prepared to handle it. Besides, there are no laws in place (in Cambodia),” says Sam Everingham, Global Director, Families Through Surrogacy. He says that couples from Australia too are looking at other destinations including Cambodia, but there are concerns about its medical infrastructure vis-à-vis other destinations such as India.


Mr Everingham says doctors from Thailand have set up shop in Cambodia and that the surrogates are from Thailand, Cambodia and also India.

Collaborations elsewhere
Doctors who offered surrogacy service in India are aware of the new hubs. Dr Rita Bakshi, chairperson of International Fertility Centre in Delhi, says: “Cambodia may have emerged as a hub, but it has only one or two players currently. It doesn’t have well-defined laws so a better place is Ukraine that has laws in place.”

Ukraine’s presence is not lost on Indian doctors who once had a good surrogacy business going.

After the ban on commercial surrogacy in November last year, Hyderabad-based Kiran Infertility Centre collaborated with an infertility clinic in Ukraine. “We have done this work for the last 10 years and we have patients still approaching us for it. We tell them it will cost more, but we can offer the service,” says Dr Samit Sekhar, who visits Ukraine once in two months.


India: Amidst increasing VAW, acid attacks emerge as terrifying new threat to women of West Bengal Print E-mail
 September 16, 2016

Crime

Acid victims

During a felicitation ceremony for acid attack survivors in Lucknow on March 8. (Rajeev Bhatt)
 
At a candlelight vigil in Kolkata on August 13, after a rally for a deaf and mute woman who died in an acid attack at Nadia district. (PTI)

A spurt in acid attacks against women has become a cause for concern in rural and urban West Bengal.

By SUHRID SANKAR CHATTOPADHYAY
ON the afternoon of August 18, Raqibur Mandal of Nowda in Murshidabad district went to meet the girl he wanted to marry, carrying with him a bottle of acid. The girl, a student of class 12, had gone to the local panchayat office and was walking back alone when he waylaid her. The two were seen having a heated argument, and Raqibur suddenly hurled acid on the girl’s face. He tried to escape on his motorbike but was caught by the local people. Like all acid attacks, it was a cold premeditated assault. He knew very well that she would reject him and had armed himself to avenge the insult to his ego.

The same day at Joynagar in South 24 Paraganas district, Uma Chakraborty, a housewife, was attacked with acid allegedly by her neighbour, Bapi Mistri, over a long-standing dispute over land. Uma Chakraborty, in the throes of agony, threw herself into a nearby lake before being rescued by other residents of the neighbourhood.

Just 10 days before these attacks, Jyotsna Das Malik, a 35-year-old widow from Tarakeswar in Hooghly district, and 28-year-old Shikha Ghosh from Nadia succumbed to burn injuries after being attacked with acid. The attack on Jyotsna Das Malik was carried out on July 23, apparently for spurning the advances of one of her attackers. Shikha Ghosh, who was a deaf mute, was in her room on the night of August 6 when miscreants threw acid on her through the window. She died of burns two days later. According to her family, the attack was instigated by a neighbour who had allegedly raped Shikha earlier.

On August 3, yet another woman, this time a housewife from Bardhaman, was attacked with acid.

Between July 23 and August 18, West Bengal was witness to five acid attacks that resulted in two deaths. In the face of increasing incidence of violence on women in the State, the spurt in acid attacks over the last few years has become a cause for concern in Bengal’s rural and urban societies.


According to data available with Acid Survivors Foundation India (ASFI), a non-governmental organisation that works with survivors for their rehabilitation, from 2010 to mid 2014, as many as 65 people from West Bengal fell victim to acid attacks, the third highest in the country after Delhi (90) and Uttar Pradesh (71). The eastern region of the country alone accounts for around 21 per cent of acid violence in India. “Though we have not yet got the final figures, our preliminary findings show that the trend of acid attacks has been rising in the last one and a half years,” Avijit Kumar, assistant director (headquarters), ASFI, told Frontline.


With more than 75 per cent of the victims being women, acid attacks have emerged as a terrifying new threat to the women of West Bengal. The vast majority of the attacks are precipitated by rejection of sexual advances or declaration of love or marriage proposals; some instances relate to personal disputes or dowry. There was even an instance of gratuitous cruelty; in August 2010, 10 women were injured when miscreants hurled acid through the windows of the ladies’ compartment in a moving suburban train in Kolkata.


Until 2010, Bangladesh registered the highest number of cases of acid attacks worldwide. However, by 2014, Bangladesh successfully managed to reduce the number of such attacks, but in India, they have been on the rise. Today, India has the highest number of acid attacks in the world, followed by Pakistan and Bangladesh. According to ASFI, the main reason for Bangladesh’s success is the rigorous enforcement of the law against offenders.

“Bangladesh has really done a commendable job, and for that they have put their laws in place. A person who is caught for acid crime and convicted in Bangladesh is liable to hang. Though not a single person has been hanged, it is still a major deterrent. In our case, our conviction rate is very poor, and [the judicial process] time-consuming,” said Avijit Kumar. According to the ASFI, the all-India conviction rate in acid attack cases in 2013 was 40.2 per cent; in West Bengal it was just 14 per cent.

Malini Bhattacharya, former chairperson of the West Bengal Commission for Women and former member of the National Women’s Commission, said that the increase in acid attacks in the State was a reflection of the increase in different kinds of anti-social activities. “When the general situation in the State is one of lawlessness and increasing assaults on women, it is no surprise that acid attacks also become more frequent,” she said.

Time and again, acid attack victims have voiced their disappointment in their pursuit of redress by law. Polly Debnath (38) of Ranaghat in Nadia district lost an eye in an acid attack in 2013. “Ripon Chandra Das, who lived near my house, had been pursuing me to have a physical relationship with him, but I kept turning him down. Then he started threatening me with acid attack. When I went to the Ranaghat police station to complain, they paid no heed to my situation,” she said. Ripon Chandra Das even tried to kill her mother when she asked him to leave her daughter alone. Once again, according to Polly Debnath, the police did nothing; six months later, one day in June 2013, Ripon Chandra Das followed Polly Debnath when she went out for work and threw acid on her face. “He has still not been caught. Some time back he even came back home. When I complained again to the Ranaghat police station to have him arrested, they again did nothing. He has now gone away,” said Polly Debnath.

Myna Pramanik’s husband and in-laws threw acid on her face over dowry in 2001. “Now my face has improved, but initially when I would venture out of the house, people would be scared of me. I could feel their disgust, while those who did this to me are out on bail,” she said.

According to Dibyaloke Rai Chaudhuri, coordinator (headquarters), ASFI, the fact that the perpetrators of the crime are mostly out on bail and living their lives is particularly demoralising for the victims. “What the victims want most is justice. It is essential that those who commit this heinous crime receive punishment and an example is set. Many of them, after coming out on bail, continue to terrorise the victims. There have been several instances when we had to rehabilitate them,” said Rai Chaudhuri.

After the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 2013, two separate sections were introduced in the Indian Penal Code (IPC) to separately deal with acid attack, Article 326A and Article 326B, but the incidence of attacks has not reduced significantly. Under Article 326A, a person who has caused harm by throwing acid faces an imprisonment sentence of not less than 10 years, which may extend to imprisonment for life. For attempting to throw acid, under Section 326B, a person faces a sentence of at least five years, which may extend to seven years.

However, according to Sayanti Sengupta, an advocate with the Human Rights Law Network (HRLN), which takes up the cases of acid victims, reality presents a different picture. “Though there are now separate sections in the IPC to deal with acid attacks, in none of the cases that we have taken up so far has there been a conviction, and most unfortunately, the trials are also very long-drawn,” she said.

According to the Supreme Court’s direction, the government of West Bengal has set up a scheme of compensation, wherein it pays at least Rs.3 lakh to an acid attack victim. Of this, Rs.1 lakh is to be paid within 15 days of the attack, but most victims do not get the compensation on time. Myna Pramanik has not received any payment to date, though her case dates back to 2001.

Jamir Khan of the HRLN said, “The State government is not proactive in paying the compensation to the victims. In most of the cases that we take up, we have to seek the intervention of the court; and even after that there is delay.” Most victims come from impoverished backgrounds, and in many cases have to sell their belongings and even property to pay for their immediate medical expenses.

With stealth and element of surprise on the one hand and the scope for inflicting permanent damage on the other, acid attack is one of the most lethal forms of criminal assault. The ready availability of acid despite strict guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court regarding its sale is seen as one of the main reasons for this growing crime. “The criminal laws were changed in 2013, and at that time there was a section dealing with acid attack victims and the perpetrators of the crime. However, this legal provision is not enough. There has to be far stricter provisions to regulate the supply and sale of acid. In West Bengal that is not in place,” said Malini Bhattacharya.

According to the directions of the apex court, sale of acid across the counter is prohibited unless the seller maintains a log or a register recording the sale, which contains the details of the person buying the acid and the amount purchased. The purchaser will need to produce an identity card issued by the government, which contains residential address details and the seller, must ascertain the purpose for which the acid is purchased.

However, in most cases, these rules are not adhered to.
Strict monitoring is also required in unorganised sectors such as jewellery making and cotton dyeing, where strong acids are used. “Easy availability of acid in these sectors, where there is a high transient working population, is quite dangerous unless monitored. We have seen that Murshidabad is the district where the largest number of acid attacks take place in West Bengal; it is also a place where cotton and silk are vibrant industries where the use of acid is a necessity,” said Avijit Kumar.

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