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Life imprisonment is the only way to reduce acid attacks

November 26, 2007

Recently, a trial court in Delhi gave a man who threw acid on an 18-year-old girl an unusual punishment – the maximum punishment prescribed under Section 326 (voluntarily causing grievous hurt by weapons or means) of the IPC (Indian Penal Code). He said:

This is a case of an overzealous lover who could not get his love, and out of sheer frustration threw acid on the victim’s face… it has reduced the victim to nothing but a moving mass of bones and flesh.”

I do not know if this punishment will be upheld by a higher court but I hope it is. Acid Attacks show no signs of decreasing and in fact are common in several Asian countries, in particular countries like India, in Bangladesh, and in Pakistan. In most of the cases the victims are women and in most are burnt because they spurn the love of their attacker. Although both men and children have been victims as well (acid is simply another weapon to cause serious hurt) but the majority of the victims are women.

What about the rest of the world?
Well, if one takes violence against women, no country is immune as it is a global problem. Whether it is the United States, or the United Kingdom, or in fact other countries like Brazil or Cambodia or China or even Uganda. It’s just that the frequency differs, depending on the law and order situation in the country, it’s justice system and ofcourse the status of women in that country.

Crime by jealous lovers also happen in all countries and I am reminded of the well publicized case of O.J. Simpson in the US who was accused of killing his ex-wife and her lover.

It’s nothing to do with celebrities or glamour
O.J Simpson’s case was publicized because he was a celebrity but actually ordinary people suffer these things far more than celebrities. Mumbai’s most recent such incident is a case in point. A young model’s mother and uncle were murdered by the model’s (Moon Das) ex-boyfriend (Avinash Patnaik) who put a bullet into his own head when he realised that the police had been called. He was just 22. For some odd reason there are articles in the media which talk of celebrities being subject to such incidents! These kind of articles appear whenever a celebrity commits suicide or is attacked or murdered. In reality ordinary girls suffer far more than those in the glamour world!

Why does a jealous lover act in a murderous way?
Well, Bangladesh (which has a high incidence of this problem) has compiled statistics pertaining to this particular crime here. A significant number of crimes happen due to property disputes (and men are attacked too) but an alarming number happen because a woman spurns the proposal of the attacker. Looks like William Congreve’s saying that Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned actually applies to men, and not to women…

To me at least the reason for such attacks by jilted lovers are clear. The killers (assuming they are mentally sound) are spoilt brats who cannot take no for an answer. They feel if they can’t have the girl, no one else should.

The law is not a deterrent
An acid attack is a very cruel and inhuman act, horrible because the victim lives and suffers the disfigurement but the perpretrators get away with minor punishment if the victim does not die. But murder is rarely the motive, life-long torture is! There are few cases like the Delhi one (mentioned above) where the punishment given is life imprisonment. Only one other case as far as I know where an acid attacker was given life. Everything is left to the judge and whether he realises the seriousness of the crime.

Even the Supreme Court has recognized that victims are not getting justice and has in fact termed an acid attack as “worse than murder”. This was in response to a petition by a minor girl Laxmi, from Delhi, a victim of an acid attack who was “seeking framing of new law to deal with acid attack as a special offence which has increased manifold in past few years”. Her arms, face and other body parts were severely disfigured and deformed in the acid attack, and she desired that new laws be framed for dealing with the offence. The court has asked the government to look into this, and has also demanded that adequate compensation should be paid to victims to such attacks.

The Karnataka government has acted
Just this month, the state government of Karnataka finally notified the “framing a comprehensive compensation and rehabilitation package, exclusively for acid attack victims in the State.” This is the result of the CSAAAW (Campaign and Struggle Against Acid Attacks on Women) filing a PIL in the High Court in 2006 demanding relief and rehabilitation to the survivors of these attacks. This a great step and hopefully other Indian states emulate this!

Perhaps we could also take a tip from Bangladesh which has a special law to deal with acid attacks. Some years ago the country passed two laws, including the provision for the death sentence for acid attacks. These are the Acid Crimes Control Act, 2002, under which “those found guilty of killing a person by splashing acid on the victim will get the death sentence and be fined 100,000 taka”. Another law is to “restrict production, import, transportation, storing and selling of acid in the country” and the punishment is 1-15 years in prison.

True, passing of laws will not do the job (in Bangladesh the problem is still very serious) as the law machinery has to work as well. But such a law is an urgent requirement in any country where frequency of acid attacks is on the rise.

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27 Comments leave one →
  1. November 26, 2007 12:02 pm

    Nita: In all this I am interested to find out if _women_ ever carry out acid attacks on _men_.

    If not, does it not say something about the unhindered and constantly stroked male ego and the general male sense of impunity in a society that a man can even consider this an appropriate ‘revenge’ plan, against a woman who refuses his advances?

    It also says something about the great – and real – power imbalance in society (or sub-sections of it; most acid attacks in the UK happen in Asian communities) between men and women.

    Awful as it is, life imprisonment allows a man to be fed and housed at state expense. I wonder if something more drastic and incapacitating would be more useful…

  2. November 26, 2007 1:57 pm

    @Shefaly:

    I have never heard of any woman carrying out an acid attack but ofcourse women do act violently towards men but usually for material gain (to inherit the fortune) or the murder is done with the connivance of a lover to escape the marriage bonds. From what I have read a woman’s preferred method is poisoning! Or she can get her lover to do the job as he would be physically more capable of it.
    However I have never heard of any woman killing or attacking a man because he has rejected her advances! I am sure freak cases do exist though.
    It’s the motive of the attacks which disturb me. There have been cases in India where a girl does not even know her attacker…! He has just seen her round, maybe met her once or twice, proposes to her and when she refuses, he throws the acid! So in a way this is worse than domestic violence. It’s scary because it can happen to anybody.
    About the gender imbalance, no doubt about it, particularly in Asia and the middle east. And as for your idea of incapacitating, why not….depends on what you would like to be incapacitated!

  3. November 26, 2007 2:01 pm

    Nita,

    1. A man who turned blind after an acid attack by a group of trawlers. Link.

    2. Acid attack on boy who refused sex with a Muslim cleric.
    Click here. (This link is from Wikipedia).

  4. November 26, 2007 2:03 pm

    There was another case in Wiki where a man was attacked by a woman after the latter was given a divorce. She hunted down her husband and attacked him, who turned blind. Later, she tried to find him again and was arrested by the police when she was chasing her husband with a bottle of acid in her hand. (Found this incident from Wiki too, but unfortunately, the link for this story has expired. It pointed towards the website Mid Day).

  5. November 26, 2007 2:12 pm

    @ruhi:

    Thanks for those links. I guess these things happen in the US too!
    However,it does seem as most of the cases are attacks by men, even if the victims are men or children. And the case of a woman throwing acid I think would be a very rare case.

  6. November 26, 2007 5:11 pm

    “The killers (assuming they are mentally sound) are spoilt brats who cannot take no for an answer. They feel if they can’t have the girl, no one else should.” – Nita

    I’d agree with this. And one mark of a spoilt brat is that he typically thinks his suffering is greater than anyone else’s. If you try telling him that rejection is something we all face at one time or another, and to learn to deal with it, he’s likely to whine, “No one understands me!”

  7. November 26, 2007 6:03 pm

    @Paul: Thanks. Rejection as you said is a part and parcel of life and there is not a human being who doesn’t go through it! I think parents today (at least in India) are overly indulgent towards their kids. When I see kids screaming and running amock in public places I wonder what sort of adults these children will turn into!

  8. November 26, 2007 6:07 pm

    @ Nita:

    “depends on what you would like to be incapacitated!”

    Depriving someone of their fingers should do the trick. Remember Eklavya and his thumb?

  9. November 26, 2007 6:13 pm

    @Shefaly:

    I was actually joking! Forgot to add the smilie. But I guess it’s a good thing I didn’t! After all such a serious subject!

  10. November 26, 2007 6:51 pm

    @ Nita: I agree it is serious but I am also serious about the incapacitating… Don’t we say: shathe shaathyam samaacharet? Why be benign to someone to inhuman?

  11. November 26, 2007 7:27 pm

    @Shefaly:

    True and I guess I just have this horror of capital punishment! But at the same time that is an emotional reaction and I am amenable to be persuaded. Like you said, why should cruel monsters be supported by the state!

  12. November 26, 2007 9:40 pm

    I would be okay with a retributional, legal defacing of the scum who carries out acid attacks. I see these patients off and on, and I can tell you this is not funny. I agree with you that this is possibly worse than death.
    However, I refuse to believe that women don’t do this to men, though the incidence may be small. I have personally handled cases of genital mutilation by women, though the victims were not exactly reincarnated Gandhis…

  13. November 26, 2007 10:02 pm

    @rambodoc:

    I am sure that women can be violent towards men too but again it’s the frequency that is significant. It’s the numbers which are shocking because it shows a societal trend. Yes, we have heard of the Bobbits of the world!
    And again you did mention that they were not exactly gandhis! They were bobbits!

  14. November 26, 2007 10:02 pm

    I believe some frustrated people may act in such selfish ways without even thinking twice about the consequences. The victim is traumatized physically and psychologically and may never be the same again. If the criminal would stop by even for a moment and think humanely he may never commit such crimes.

  15. November 26, 2007 10:15 pm

    Remember Angulimal?🙂

    While the prisoners do get room and board on state’s expense, don’t they have to do hard labor while in there? If not, then they should. I fully believe that there’s always scope for personal transformation, so while it is absolutely necessary and important to protect others from such dangerous people, and some punishment is necessary to make them realize their mistake and for them to pay back for their crimes, I’m not in favor of capital punishment or a tit-for-tat policy.

  16. November 26, 2007 10:50 pm

    Medhini, a very benevolent way to looking at it! Indeed I wish for such a world and I wish I could believe in it.

    Amit, I don’t agree with the tit for tat policy either because usually it doesn’t work and like you, I too feel uneasy about capital punishment. But where personal transformation is concerned I am not sure I believe in that either…I think if a person is like Medhini said – a person who commit the crime on impulse and regrets it – then he/she would be amenable to change. But how many such people are there? Not more than 25 percent of criminals I think. And even then it is difficult to judge who is genuinely sorry and would not repeat his crime…in fact one can look at it another way. If a person commits a crime on impulse because of a fit of rage, then perhaps another such volatile situation might make him lose control again. Many domestic violence cases are like this, where the attacker is sorry and then does it again and again. Child rapists too can never stop…
    and the many conscienceless criminals will never change! In fact what is scary is that prisons are making these people worse!

  17. November 26, 2007 11:12 pm

    Nita, I’ve had a draft of a post on this issue for some time now, and maybe this will prompt me to finish and publish it. Meanwhile, here’s some information from India’s Tihar jail that has been using meditation and yoga as a way to bring some positive changes and rehabilitate the prisoners: http://cities.expressindia.com/fullstory.php?newsid=213320
    http://tiharprisons.nic.in/html/reform.htm#yog
    Kiran Bedi has been actively involved in these efforts.

    In the US, results of prisoners trying out different types of meditation techniques are being studied. While the studies and their results are preliminary, they have shown some promise.

  18. November 26, 2007 11:19 pm

    Another link on Kiran Bedi’s efforts to reform Tihar: http://www.goodnewsindia.com/Pages/content/transitions/tihar.html

  19. November 26, 2007 11:20 pm

    @Amit: thanks.

    I have read Kiran Bedi’s book in which she has described all that she did in Tihar. The woman is amazing! btw, she came to one of my posts and left a comment once and I feel really proud of that!
    I am fully in agreement with her techniques but unfortunately I am not sure whether all this is still being carried out in Tihar today. She got an award for her efforts but the rest of the jails in India are in pathetic condition!
    Yes, hers are the only way – the only hope of reforming prisoners. There is no need for the US to study it…its a fact!

  20. November 27, 2007 1:11 am

    Nita, it’s wonderful that she read your post.🙂
    As far as I know, the meditation efforts are still going strong in Tihar jail.

    Here in the US, any eastern practices of meditation, yoga etc. are viewed skeptically in the mainstream, and I don’t blame them – there have been many cases of “gurus” taking people for a ride, or making their own modifications. Plus the Christian religion has a strong influence, and that leads people to be suspicious of anything that’s not part of Judeo-Christian tradition. I think it’s not a bad idea to conduct studies that show results – evidence-based approach actually has a better chance of being adopted.

  21. November 27, 2007 8:01 am

    @Amit:

    Yeah I guess they would want proof. Here we know of certain things because of century old traditions whether it’s about yoga, ayurveda or homeopathy. Over there I have read that there are organisations opposing these streams because there are people who promise the moon. Here too there are people who are cheats ofcourse but I guess they are more consumer conscious out there in the US.

  22. December 2, 2007 6:43 pm

    Well as sick as it is most men i guess want women to do what they say, when they say, how they say. they basically dont understand women are human beings.unfortunately, all good women end up with the jerks😦

  23. December 2, 2007 10:06 pm

    @aniche:

    You mean submissive women? I wouldn’t say submissive women are necessarily good women or vice versa.

  24. December 10, 2007 2:21 pm

    Recently, a lecturer attacked his former student with acid in Srikakulam district of Andhra Pradesh. Seedipalli Damodar fell in love with his girl student when he was working as teacher in a village. At first, that girl accepted his love and agreed to marry him. Damodar deserted his job of school teacher and joined as lecturer in a private college of town. When he met the parents of the girl, they rejected the proposal of marriage and replied that they would give their girl to a person who has government job. The girl also followed her parents and cut her affair with Damodar. Ired Damodar attacked the girl with acid in day light when she came to town for drawing money from ATM. In past, only students used to harass girls. Now the position is worsened and lecturers also stooped down to the level of harassing girls in the name of love.

  25. December 10, 2007 9:31 pm

    @Proletarian Revolutionary:

    I am quite shocked to hear about this case. Lecturers have no right to harass students, it’s completely unethical. In fact in many educational institutions, lecturers are not allowed to mingle with students. this college should have sacked the teacher!

  26. December 11, 2007 9:42 am

    That lecturer fell in love with his girl student when he was working as school teacher in village. At that time, the girl was studying 9th standard. I wonder why did the so called educated teacher fell in love with minor girl! He made proposal of marriage even prior to completion of her education.

    Cinemas teach varieties of techniques for harassing girls. Yesterday, police arrested a student in Anantapur district who tried to tie mangal sutra forcibily to a girl student in examination hall. Venkata Ramana fell in love with Rajeswari when they were studying intermediate in Guntakal town. Rajeswari’s father was transferred to Yadiki and she was also shifted from the town. Venkata Ramana went to Yadiki and requested her father to agree with their proposal of marriage. Rajeswari’s father rejected the proposal and Rajeswari also followed her father. Venkata Ramana forced to marry her. He even entered examination center and tried to tie mangal sutra forcibly. While the girl was resisting him, other students came and pushed the boy out and informed to police. That boy was influenced by telugu cinemas that show hero forcibly tying mangal sutra to heroine who hates him. He tried to practice the same in real life and he was arrested. Cinemas and TV media are causing very cheap impression on women. Acid attacks and rapes etc are also consequences of money greed of cinema and TV promoters.

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