India is known for many things - religious diversity, a rich cultural heritage, a myriad languages, that sort of thing. The sort of reputation to be proud of. There is however, another side to our country - the brutal, horrific, and sickening side. The side that makes you wonder how we can be so proud, and so ignorant at the same time. The worst part is, it stems from one of the most beautiful emotions we can experience - Love, or some mutated form of it.
The unholy triumvirate of love, rejection and acid is a terrifying triangle that we in the Indian subcontinent get to hear about all too often. A spurned lover will get his or her hands on a bottle of sulfuric or nitric acid, and send it flying into the face of their emotional obsession in a haze of vitriolic rage. While the majority of acid attack victims are women, there have also been cases of men being attacked. Make no mistake though, this is gender violence. The result of this, apart from the obvious physical agony and mutilation, is psychological and social trauma, something that can take a lifetime to recover from. Acid attack victims face a plethora of challenges, which is exactly why this crime is so heinous - because it breaks the person in more ways than one.
India has witnessed a dramatic rise in acid attacks, and is likely to have the highest number of cases, reported and unreported, in the world
Using acid as a form of attack might be one of the most abhorrent actions of the human state, but numbers indicate that these incidences have been increasing exponentially since the past two 2 decades. There were 27 reported cases in 2010, 83 in 2011 and a jarring 349 in 2015. India effectively has the highest number of acid attacks in the world, but the lowest conviction rates in comparison. Truly the worst of both worlds.
There are a myriad reasons why acid attacks occur, including rejection, sexism, loss of control and feeling a sense of ownership towards a person
The causes for these kinds of attacks are staggeringly trivial, and range from the unexpected to the completely pointless. Of course, a large part of it has to do with the deeply patriarchal mindset of most of the country. Look at the case of 23-year-old Preeti Rathi, a nurse with a successful future ahead of her, attacked by a man named Ankur Panwar for rejecting his marriage proposal, and because she was doing better than him. She succumbed to her injuries.
Or read the story of Haseena Hussain, who was attacked with acid after quitting her job and refusing to marry her boss. The acid made a hole in her head, her nose and one of her earlobes were dissolved together, one side of her neck is welded to the shoulder, and her fingers got fused together.
However, not all acid attacks stem from a place of sensitive male ego. A day ago, 24-year old Sheikh Mohammad Illyas was killed after his ex-girlfriend, Hima Bindu, poured acid down his throat. She carried out this appalling act as he had gotten married to a different woman. It burnt through his chest, and some of the acid even burnt Hima herself. These grotesque crimes really make you wonder why more steps aren't being taken to curb the problem.
All these tragic cases have one thing in common though - a belief that the victim is the other person's property, devoid of free will and out of line in rejecting the person's advances. It signals a loss of control over the person, something that a dominant ego cannot handle, and which manifests itself in anger, jealousy, hatred and finally, burning revenge.
Despite a ban, the easy availability of and difficulty regulating acid in the country leaves little hope regarding prevention of these heinous attacks
In 2013, the Centre directed states across the country to ban all over-the-counter sales of acid, in accordance with a Supreme Court directive to prevent acid attacks. However, the inability to regulate and control its use is plain enough for all to see. Most enterprises using acid are in the unorganised sector - it's used in products ranging from toilet cleaners to batteries - and thereby controlling it is nigh impossible in the current condition. By law, a shopkeeper can be fined Rs. 50,000 if he doesn't submit records of acid purchase within 3 days to the police, but this is rarely ever enforced. On the whole, it is, at this time, extremely easy to procure enough acid for an attack. This of course, is a very disheartening state of affairs. It's like the entire public having easy access to guns and bullets, except bullets aren't anywhere as painful. It begs the question, will we ever be able to actively control and prevent this devastating form of attack?
There's a dire need for a change in mindset, if there is to be any hope of reducing and one day not having acid attacks in India
After the Jyoti Singh gangrape and murder case in 2013, India introduced sections 326A and 326B in the Indian Penal Code, which made acid attacks a non-bailable offense and which also specify a minimum of ten years to life imprisonment. This was highly commendable, if a little late in implementation. However, apart from all the judicial and legislative changes that can and should be made, what also needs to change is the deep rot in the Indian mindset, the sexist, chauvinist view of women that's engendered and endured through generations due to ignorance, illiteracy and outdated traditions and beliefs. The belief that you can own, control and have some kind of power over another person's life and body needs to be done away with. Acid attacks rob people of their bodies and souls, the medical costs rob them of their life's savings, and their appearance, in a lot of cases, robs them of social acceptance. It's a heart-rending situation that our country's people find themselves in, and it's one that needs to be dealt with at the earliest.
However, when you look at the state of the country today, even with these added laws, you'll find that enforcement is at a bare minimum, and that means hope for fewer of these attacks remains dim. Rehabilitation efforts towards victims might be rising, but if we don't address the problem at its core, which is the easy availability of acid and our own prejudiced thinking, do we have any actual hope for a safer future?