India: Men’s acid attacks on women bear the ugly imprint of a violent, patriarchal culture Print E-mail

 Sunday February 24, 2013


Acid vengeance

K. Venkataramanan K. T. Sangameswaran
The Hindu


India is among a handful of countries that witness the maximum number of horrific acid attacks on women. The male perpetrators disfigure women as a form of revenge. They get hold of the corrosive chemical without difficulty, and have little fear of the law. The victims die a hundred deaths

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court pulled up the Union government for failing to come up with a comprehensive and effective law to deal with growing incidents of acid attacks. The court expected a piece of legislation that also deals with treatment, care and rehabilitation of victims, and regulates the free sale of acid. This has not happened for the last seven years when the matter has been pending before the court.

The case has been filed by an acid attack survivor from Delhi, seeking new laws or amendments to deal with the criminal aspects of acid attacks, besides providing for compensation. She has also asked for a total ban on over-the-counter sale of acid.

The Centre has talked about the Union Home Secretary writing to the Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers to find out whether an expert group could be formed to bring forth a law to ban the free sale of acid.

A concrete sign of progress in law-making has been the recent ordinance on violence against women, which, among other provisions, included two new sections in the Indian Penal Code (Sections 326A, which prescribes a minimum of 10 years and a maximum of life imprisonment for deadly acid attacks that leave the victims grievously injured and causing severe permanent or partial damage and disability, and Section 326B that makes plans and attempts to fling acid on another punishable with a jail term of between five and seven years with fine). Besides, Section 326A also envisages a fine that can go up to Rs. 10 lakh and the amount should go to the victim.

The recent murder of Vinodhini, a victim of acid attack, has brought the focus back on the need for effective monitoring and regulation. With acids being available in the market, for purposes ranging from painting, use in car batteries, in de-weeding and as floor-cleaning substances, they easily fall in the hands of those who want to wreak vengeance.

The rules governing the sale of acids are not being implemented at all, says Manikandan Vathan Chettiar, a Chennai advocate, who has filed a writ petition on behalf of a human rights group seeking enforcement of the Explosives Act.

Unlicensed, over-the-counter sale of acids should be banned immediately, he says. Going a step further, the petitioner, Shanthi, State coordinator of the Citizens for Human Rights Movement, Erode, says that in all acid attack cases, the origin of the chemical should be traced and the vendors prosecuted.

Mr. Vathan Chettiar says acids fall within the meaning of “explosives” and hence should be governed by the Explosives Act.

The Act says the Centre may make rules to regulate or prohibit, except under and in accordance with the conditions of a licence granted as provided by those rules, the manufacture, possession, use, sale and transport of explosives or any specified class of explosives. But the rules remain only on paper.

The Law Commission, in its 226th report, noted that regular inspections and stock-checking by authorities are limited to explosives and not acids. Acids are specifically mentioned only in the Manufacture, Storage and Import of Hazardous Chemical Substances Rules, but these pertain mainly to the way they are handled in the industry and in transit. There is nothing in these rules concerning sales.

In South Asia, Only Bangladesh has a law, the Acid Control Act, 2002.

 Sunday February 24, 2013

Another acid attack victim succumbs to injuries


Chennai: In a second such instance in about a fortnight, a 20-year-old woman today succumbed to injuries sustained from an acid attack.

The victim was attacked by one Vijaya Bhaskar following an altercation recently and breathed her last this morning at a government hospital here, relatives and hospital sources said.

The woman, employed with a browsing centre at the suburban Adambakkam, had come under attack last month while she was alone there after Vijayabhaskar splashed acid on her following an altercation.

The accused has already been arrested and lodged in jail, police said.

The victim's brother Vijay said the family was aware of the relationship between his sister and the accused and had approved their wedding proposal.

However, Vijayabhaskar was doubtful that the family could go back on their decision and therefore was compelling the woman to marry him, he alleged.

On February 12, a 23-year-old B Tech graduate working in a private firm died at a hospital following severe burns she suffered in an acid attack at a bus terminus at Karaikal on November 14 by a construction worker, whose overtures she rejected.
 February 15, 2013


Facing the acid test

The last thing the country wanted was another victim of gender-based violence in India succumbing to injuries long after the crime had been committed. The death of J. Vinodhini, a 23-year-old B. Tech graduate, due to complications caused by a heinous acid attack in Puducherry on November 14 last year, is not just another addition to the large and, regrettably, increasing database of offences against women; rather, it is an example of the inexplicable masculine tendency to inflict grave injury on women in such manner that someone merely going about her life is converted overnight into a symbol of victimhood, forced into a battle for survival and then transformed by death into a brave-heart she did not aspire to be. On the surface, such attacks may be the perverse product of unrequited love but they bear the ugly imprint of a violent, patriarchal culture that valorises the right of a man to stalk, possess — and eventually even disfigure — the woman he desires. All will empathise with the trauma and agony undergone by Vinodhini and her family due to the senseless act of a spurned suitor. It is only appropriate that the law recognises their pain and the need for meet justice.

The Justice Verma Committee recommendations on this find expression in two new sections in the Indian Penal Code (Sections 326A and 326B) introduced by the February 3, 2013, ordinance. These envisage a maximum of 10 years in jail for those causing disability or disfigurement through the use of acid, and a five-year term for throwing or trying to throw acid on another.

Since the fear of arrest under stringent laws is unlikely to deter a crime of passion, experts feel the primary effort to curb acid attacks must lie in reducing easy access to the means to commit the crime. The Supreme Court has directed State governments and the Centre to meet and discuss provisions to regulate the sale of acid, to ensure treatment, care and rehabilitation of victims, and for payment of compensation.

Scaling up facilities for psychotherapy for those feeling depressed or rejected is another possible intervention. Be it the physiotherapy student in Delhi who is now an iconic figure in the copious annals of sexual violence in our country, or Laxmi, an acid attack victim who approached the Supreme Court in 2006 seeking a special law to deal with the use of acid to maim women physically and destroy them psychologically, it is not enough to remember their courageous fight for staying alive or their desire to bring their assailants to justice for their symbolic value. Rather, their death and suffering should occasion a determined revisiting of our laws and practices, attitudes and prejudices.

 Wednesday February 13 2013

How a brave battle came to a tragic end

R. Sujatha

Family, friends grieve young techie’s death, demand stringent punishment for attacker; activists call for penal provisions in law

For Vinodhini’s family, witnessing her death on Tuesday, after having been through a three-month battle to save her life, was shattering.

When the hospital declared the 23-year-old acid attack victim dead at 9.10 a.m., her family broke down. Torn by grief, her mother begged the doctors to take her life away too.

Vinodhini, who was attacked in Karaikal in November, had suffered extensive burns on her face, neck, stomach and shoulders when nitric acid was thrown on her by a man whose advances she had rejected.

Her father, Jayapal became emotional and told media persons that her attacker Suresh Kumar should suffer as much as she had. “It is not enough if he is hanged. She suffered so much agony and pain. He should suffer similarly,” he cried.

Her uncle, Ramesh, alleged that the doctors at the hospital had led them to believe that she was doing well, even as she was dying.
At one point he said, “We will not allow a post-mortem examination. The attacker has already destroyed her completely. It will only cause further damage to her. The doctors could not treat her, so what is the point,” he raged. It took much reasoning from social activists including representatives from the All India Democratic Women’s Organisation and a doctor, R. Ilvanji, belonging to Naam Thamizhar, for Ramesh to agree to an autopsy.

Youngsters and college students came to express their support for the family. Four students from Loyola College’s department of social work were seen. “We befriended her when she was at the Government Kilpauk Medical College Hospital, and then we came here too. But they would not let us in,” one of them said. “We never talked to her about the attack but we shared details about our life experiences to keep her in good spirits,” another student said.

Vinodhini’s friends from her workplace, who came around 1 p.m., stood in a group, silent in grief. “We worked with her,” said K. Anjana. Another colleague, R. Ilaya, said, “Often we heard from the family that she had breathing problems. On Sunday afternoon she suffered another bout. Since she was in the ICU we could not meet her.”
Her colleagues had first heard of the attack when Vinodhini’s mother called the office to inform them that she would be on leave.

As the ambulance carrying Vinodhini’s body left the hospital, six hours after she was declared dead, the crowds dissipated and life on Barnaby Road returned to normality.

 Volume 30 - Issue 04 :: February 23 - March 08, 2013

Acid horror


J. Vinothini, the victim of the acid attack in Karaikal.

The face of J. Vinothini, a 23-year-old software engineer who died in Chennai on February 12 following an acid attack on her three months earlier, will haunt Vatsalya Janani Balasubramanian, a student of Asian College of Journalism, for a long time. “I did not expect her face to be so disfigured,” said a traumatised Vatsalya, who had been to Aditya Hospital where Vinothini breathed her last. In the attack, Vinothini had lost vision in both eyes.

Vinothini’s death has focussed public attention again on the horrendous crime of acid attack. In most cases, the victims are young women who spurn the overtures of men. It is a carefully plotted, premeditated crime: the attackers know the gravity of the crime they are going to commit, and still embark on it.

Generally, nitric, hydrochloric or sulphuric acid is used in the crime. Treatment means hospitalisation for several months and several rounds of plastic surgery, which are expensive. If the victims survive, their lives are ruined forever, their self-esteem is shattered and they are unable to step out of their homes. Jobs are almost impossible to get. To get married is even more difficult.

On February 6, hearing a writ petition filed by Laxmi, a victim of acid attack, a three-member Bench of the Supreme Court, comprising Justices R.M. Lodha, J. Chelameswar and Madan B. Lokur, directed the Centre to set up a meeting of Chief Secretaries of all States and Union Territories within six weeks to forge a consensus on regulating the sale of acids. The petition pressed for curbs on the sale of acids across the country. Mohan Parasaran, Additional Solicitor General, told the court that the Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance, 2013, promulgated by the President recently, included two new Sections, 326A and 326B, in the Indian Penal Code making acid attack a specific crime and providing a maximum punishment of life sentence for it. He said the Union Home Secretary had wanted the Union Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers to check the feasibility of setting up a committee to bring in legislation to ban the sale of acids across the counter. In fact, Vinothini’s death led to a chorus of demands from political parties in Tamil Nadu for such a ban.

A B.Tech graduate, Vinothini of Karaikal, a part of the Union Territory of Puducherry, was working as a software engineer in Chennai and staying in a women’s hostel. She had gone to Karaikal in November to celebrate Deepavali with her parents. Her father, V. Jayapaul, was a security guard in a school at Karaikal.

Suresh (28), a construction labourer there, wanted to marry her, but she turned him down. On November 14, when Vinothini and her father were walking towards the bus terminus at Karaikal for her to catch a bus to Chennai, Suresh aimed the acid on her face. Her face and shoulders sustained severe burns. Her father, too, suffered burns on his hands.

The police arrested Suresh, who was remanded in judicial custody. Vinothini received initial treatment at Karaikal, then at JIPMER in Puducherry, and later at three different hospitals in Chennai­the Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital, the Kilpauk Medical College Hospital and the Aditya Hospital. Dr V. Jayaraman, a plastic surgeon who treated her, said he had spoken to her the morning before she died. “She appeared to be recovering. But she had a massive cardiac arrest and attempts to revive her failed,” he said. A sharp dip in the level of proteins, caused by burns, led to respiratory failure and her death.

Tamil Nadu has a history of acid attacks, which include the attack on K.K.S.S.R. Ramachandran, the then propaganda secretary of one of the factions of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) at Sattur on September 5, 1988, and the one on the then Commissioner of Archives, V. Chandralekha, who belonged to the Indian Administrative Service, on May 19, 1992.

Other victims include T. Deepa (September 2009), Priya (June 2006), R. Sreevidya (April 2005), S. Nirmala (May 26, 2003) and Valentina, (September 2000). Except in the case of Priya, where her mother threw acid on her, men targeted the women for cold-shouldering their advances. In one case of role reversal, Srividya (19) invited her friend Neloy (20) to her residence and poured acid on him in March 2010.

In an informed article entitled “Acid attack on women” published in The Hindu on May 24, 2005, Rameeza Rasheeda says:
“The impact of the crime is catastrophic for women… because normal life is impossible and the future remains bleak… the victims often contemplate suicide…. It is an extreme form of revenge on women.... Acid attack cannot be treated as an act of rage because the offenders plan meticulously the type of acid to be used, the quantity, the time and the venue of the attack. Insensitivity of the police, the importance given by the judiciary to minor contradictions and lapses in the prosecution’s statements cause the offender’s easy escape from conviction.”

T.S. Subramanian

 CHENNAI, February 13, 2013

When the law brought relief to victims

K. T. Sangameswaran

A judgment by a sessions court last December might serve as a deterrent to acid attacks.

Three persons involved in the crime were sentenced to life imprisonment. In another case, thanks to the intervention of the Madras High Court, the State government provided a job to a victim of an acid attack, an M.Phil-degree holder, on compassionate grounds.

On May 25, 2003, after her betrothal ceremony Nirmala, then 22, was in an autorickshaw with her sister and grandparents when, at the New Avadi Road junction, Jithendra Degra who was in another autorickshaw, intercepted her vehicle and poured concentrated acid on Nirmala and the others with her. Degra was angry about Nirmala’s decision to marry another man.

In the judgment, the sessions judge wrote that the injuries resulted in the girl losing her vision. Her face was disfigured. The court also directed the convicted persons to pay a fine of Rs. 40,000 each, of which Rs. 1.05 lakh would have to be given to the victim.

In another case, G. Valentina of Villupuram district was in class IX when Dhansekar trespassed into her house and threw acid on her face. The Madras High Court confirmed a sentence of 10 years rigorous imprisonment against the attacker. It also directed the government to give the victim a suitable job as she possessed an M.Sc. degree and an M.Phil in microbiology.

By a G.O. in April last year, the State government directed the director of medical and rural health services to give employment to the victim as a junior assistant in the Tamil Nadu ministerial service as a special case.

 Monday August 13 2012

Woman attacked with acid after refusing to have sex

Ranchi :A woman suffered acid attack after she spurned two young men's advances in Jharkhand's Jamtara district, say local media reports.

The 24-year-old married woman (name withheld) suffered burns Sunday when the two young men threw acid on her face and body. The attack took place at Bagdehari village of Jamtara district, around 350 km from Ranchi, when she had gone to ease herself by a pond in the village.

The duo allegedly caught her and asked her to have sex with them. When she refused, they threw acid on her.

The woman was visiting her parents in the village. Based on her statement, two men - Khokhan and Swapan - have been named as the attackers.

According to the woman's family members, the duo had been trying to have sex with her before she got married.

In a similar incident, a girl was attacked with acid in Dhanbad.

A few days ago in Ranchi, a handwritten poster had threatened girls wearing jeans with acid attacks.