By Sunidhi Singh, Army Institute of Law, Mohali.
“Violence is a crime against humanity, for it destroys the very fabric of society.”-Pope John Paul II
Acid attacks have become a frequent phenomenon in the present day world. ‘Woman staves off molestation attempt, attacked with acid’, ‘Unidentified men threw acid on a 35 year old woman’, ‘acid attack on a girl at Bandra station’, ‘a motorcycle-borne man splashed acid on an 18 year old software engineer’, ‘17 year old attacked with acid by spurned lover’ are the headlines of some of the most heinous acid attacks that have happened in India over the last few years.
So, what exactly is an acid attack?
An acid attack is basically the use of hazardous acids like hydrogen chloride and sulphuric acid, by throwing it on anyone to permanently deform his/her body, especially the upper half which has dire consequence of blindness and many times, even death. It renders the victims with a death like existence – scarred for life both psychologically and physically.
“Violence against any person, under any condition, is just unacceptable.”-Annemarie Matulis
International surveys have revealed that although, on one hand, everyone around the world is preaching about peace and harmony, the reality on the other hand is quite contradictory. While UK claims to be one of the highly developed nations, one harsh reality that it is facing currently is the highest frequency of acid violence. The second rung of this dishonorable ladder is occupied by our very own neighbor, the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, which is also infamous for the easiest availability of acids. Closely following these two Countries, is India, which has become ignominious for constituting almost half of the total acid attacks taking place throughout the world. Quite a matter of concern, isn’t it?
Well, earlier there were no specified laws in India to deal with such a heinous crime. Cases of acid attacks were generally dealt with, in accordance to Section 326 of the IPC, which only addressed the issues of ‘voluntarily causing grievous hurt by hazardous means and weapons’, posing a plethora of possibilities for the accused, to get away with the abominable crime quite easily, owing to the ambiguous nature of this Section.
Therefore, there was a desperate need to bring into force such a law which would punish such offenders and would also cater to the issue of compensation, keeping in mind the medical expenses of the victims.
Hence, in the year 2013, the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act was passed and enforced on 3rd February, which amended and inserted, various Sections of and to the Indian Penal Code, Criminal Procedure Code and the Indian Evidence Act, to bring new offences and harsher penalties under its ambit of crimes against women, the absence of which had posed a great problem previously for the redressal of the grievances.
Accordingly, on the recommendations of the Eighteenth Law Commission of India – headed by Justice A.R. Lakshmanan, and following the Directives of the Honorable Supreme Court of India, among other things, focusing essentially on the issue of acid attacks, Section 100 was amended, two new Sections – 326A and 326B, were inserted in the IPC and Section 114B was inserted in the Evidence Act.
That being so, Section 100 of the IPC introduces and defines the concept of ‘Acid Attacks’ as an act of throwing or administering acid or an attempt to administer or throw acid which may reasonably cause the apprehension that grievous hurt will otherwise be the consequence of such act.
While Section 326A (voluntarily causing grievous hurt by use of acid) addresses the essentials of an acid attack and the related punishments, Section 326B (voluntarily throwing or attempt to throw acid) throws light on the act of attempted acid attacks and consequential punishments.
The penalties in accordance with both the Sections are as follows-
Section 326A – imprisonment of either description for a term not less than ten years but which may extend to imprisonment for life or a fine which is just and reasonable keeping in mind the compensation required by the victim for medical expenses.
Section 326B – imprisonment of either description for a term not less than five years but which may extend to seven years and shall also be liable to a fine.
These newly inserted provisions and especially the higher degree of punishment provided therein, is definitely a strong step to begin with, for rooting out this serious issue. While, earlier, our laws portrayed equivocation when it came to addressing the matter of acid violence in the nation, today, the scenario has changed and presently the laws of our country have stood up against this offence, standing by the victims so that justice prevails in all circumstances. The good news is that this Act has been quite successful in solving many cases, with speedy trials which were pending since a considerable amount of time due the special phenomenon of backlog of criminal cases nationwide.
However, recent surveys and statistics reveal that despite the Supreme Court Directive, on the ban of unlicensed sale of perilous acids following the judgment of Lakshmi v. Union of India, little has been done to regulate the sale and purchase of acids. As acid is used right from toilet cleaning, to jewelry making and in battery shops, car and auto service garages, it continues to be easily available.
Another problem, faced by our nation currently, is the steady increase in the number of acid attacks accompanied by low rates of conviction of the accused. Studies divulge the fact that India has the lowest conviction rates among all the countries in the world.
Hence, one can clearly make the case that, though better equipped laws have been made and brought into force, we certainly face difficulties in getting any results in terms of implementation of the laws. There is an urgent need for our Government and Executive to pull up their socks and put in their hundred percent efforts for the proper implementation of this Act, else, the citizens of our country, especially the acid attack victims, might not be able to possess any faith in the administration of justice of our country.
Acid attacks have long term effects on the physical as well as psychological aspects of a victim’s life, from blindness till death, the permanent scarring of the face and body of a person renders the victim with far reaching social, psychological and economic difficulties.
“Acid attacks destroy a family completely, and the victim has to undergo at least 80 reconstruction operations. It is harrowing.”
-Lakshmi, acid attack survivor