For representational purposes
For representational purposes

Acid attacks remain a blot that needs govt and society action

Acid attacks could be termed the most dastardly crime, carried out viciously on an unsuspecting victim. Almost always, the perpetrator is male, the victim female, and the motive revenge.

There was an unsavoury detail tucked away in the National Crime Records Bureau data for Bengaluru. The city registered six cases of acid attack, the highest for any metropolis in India, last year. The city ranked third in crimes against women, with 3,924 cases registered in 2022—though far behind Delhi, which retains its tag of the most unsafe city for women with 14,158 cases, and Mumbai reporting 6,176 cases. Women continue to be an easy target, with a staggering 4,45,256 cases registered nationwide in 2022, a rise of 4 percent over the previous year. While rape, gang rape, assault and abduction top the list, around 200 acid attack cases are filed every year.

Acid attacks could be termed the most dastardly crime, carried out viciously on an unsuspecting victim. Almost always, the perpetrator is male, the victim female, and the motive is revenge. The reason could range from rejection of advances, property dispute, dowry harassment, and domestic abuse, down to plain ‘teaching her a lesson’. It leaves the woman scarred for life, physically and psychologically, and she also has to prepare for a long and lonely battle for justice—such a case could languish for five to 10 years and the conviction rate is none too encouraging.

The most crucial issue here is the free availability of acid, both over the counter and online. In 2013, the Supreme Court banned over-the-counter sale of acid and instructed officials to issue acid sale licences to selected retailers; it meant that buyers would have to share their addresses and photo IDs. Yet, an experiment just a couple of years ago by a film crew showed that acid can be bought freely at a local store without any proof of identity. Online sale gives a degree of anonymity, though it does leave a digital trail. In 2013, following the ‘Nirbhaya’ gang-rape case and Justice Verma committee report, the Union government recognised acid attacks as a separate offence with a minimum punishment of 10 years and maximum of life imprisonment. It is worrying that despite these measures, acid attacks are perpetrated with impunity. Given that this crime is common in neighbouring Pakistan and Bangladesh too, it is a regional malaise. What we need is a concerted effort by the government, law enforcers and civil society to end this heinous crime, starting with a crackdown on the casual sale of acid, followed by stringent punishment.

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