A petition against acid attacks on women
Acid attacks are a form of gender-based violence aimed at silencing and controlling women. Their use as a weapon against women who refuse sexual or other advances is on the rise in India. This petition is seeking to force the Government of Karnataka and other respondents to introduce measures in order to deal more effectively and sensitively with acid attack cases. The PIL seeks assurances from Government that speedy trials are introduced and police investigations are conducted thoroughly by gender sensitive officers. The PIL also seeks sufficient compensation for the victims of such brutal attacks and the payment of medical treatments and other support and rehabilitative services required.
Case Details and Status
Acid attacks have many severe consequences on their victims; most potently it brands the victims as disobedient in the eyes of the perpetrator, the scars that these attacks leave are a public statement of the women’s perceived lack of worth. The attacks are clearly and cruelly calculated to permanently disfigure, debilitate and ultimately destroy the woman, physically, economically and psychologically.
The petitioner, CSAAW, based in Karnataka is a coalition of different women’s and human rights groups including HRLN, formed specifically to campaign against acid attacks on women and for justice to be served to its victims. CSAAW has documented numerous cases of acid attacks and reported on the massively detrimental effect these attacks have on the lives of the victims. Their research outlines the growing prevalence of acid attacks and demonstrates both the vicious nature of the attacks and the severe consequences it has for the victims, which even sometimes results in death.
The venomous intent behind these attacks is clear from the fact that most attacks are directed primarily at the face and result in scarring, deformity and injuries such as blindness. Many of these debilities leaves the victims severely disabled and disfigured, isolating them and driving them underground in the face of ridicule, making it nearly impossible for them to function in society. A subsequent result of this debilitation is an acute decrease in income for the victims and their families as they are forced to give up work. Even if they recover to the extent that they are fit for employment few employers are willing to hire people with such physical deformities. Most women also find themselves abandoned by their husbands. This leaves them solely responsible for their children, which can have a huge effect on their lives and their standard of living. Furthermore, many victims have hugely increased healthcare costs with essential medical treatment being required on an ongoing basis. It is often the case that medical expenses easily reach 6 Lakh.
There have also been cases where the incorrect medical treatment given to acid attack victims has exacerbated their injuries, further added to their trauma, e.g. instead of using water to flush out the toxic acid, oil was used by medical personnel. In other cases vital first aid, which could prevent permanent and life threatening injuries, was not administered at all. It is imperative that medical professionals know how to treat the victims.
The police also often exacerbate the trauma of the victims. As with other gender-based crimes they often side with the perpetrator and attempt to intimidate and harass the victim at the behest of the accused. In one instance, the police instead of arresting the accused ransacked the beauty parlour of the victim, trespassed into her email account and commented on her private affairs.
Similarly, judges overlook the seriousness of the offence and firstly allow bail to the accused when they can further intimidate the victim and secondly give extremely lenient sentences when they are ultimately found guilty. Further displaying insensitivity to the type of offence that has been perpetrated on the victim, the manner in which the judicial system functions results in the conduct of long protracted trials.
It is evident that acid attacks can be described as one of the grossest violations of human rights of women in Indian society today. Women have the right under International Human Rights Law, specifically the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, 1980 (CEDAW) to be free from such violent attacks. Furthermore numerous rights guaranteed under the Indian Constitution are violated when acid attacks are perpetrated against women. Article 14, equal protection of the law is routinely violated when police fail to conduct a timely investigation and harass the victims instead of investigating the crime. Article 15(3) guarantees the state to make special provision to women and children but the state government has failed in this by not making any provisions or schemes for the welfare of acid attack victims and their children.
The petitioners call for an end to this alarming state of affairs and abuse of women. As such the petitioner advocates the following:
- For the police to conduct investigations in acid attacks correctly and thoroughly with the use of specially trained gender sensitive police officers
- For the respondent to make available immediate and emergent medical facilities to all victims, where doctors and medical staff are trained on how to deal with the injuries properly
- To arrange medical reimbursement of all medical expenses incurred by the victims, which should be given irrespective of whether treatment took place in a public or private institution
- Compensation to be awarded to the victims from a consortium of chemical manufacturers formed by the respondent
- To strictly control the production, distribution and storage of toxic acids and regulate the sale of same
- For the judiciary to conduct speedy trials and issue directions to process compensation
- To punish the perpetrators appropriately, with a minimum punishment irrespective of the injury caused similar to SC-ST atrocities and not grant bail in similar cases
The writ has been accepted by the Karnataka High Court. It is hoped it will result in the Government introducing the concrete reforms necessary to protect the fundamental rights of women who are victims of acid attacks.