Indian acid victims say new law is ignored
By Archana Thiyagarajan, AP
December 13, 2013, 12:13 am TWN
NEW DELHI--A gang of young neighborhood men would harass Sonali Mukherjee whenever she left home — taunting her, following her, hissing lewd comments.
But Mukherjee, 18 at the time, was not afraid. A sociology student, she stood up to her tormenters. After she threatened to go to the police, they sneaked into her house and poured acid on her while she slept, melting away much of her face.
“I did not know that they were hatching a plan to take revenge,” she said, more than 10 years later.
Now, Mukherjee and other victims of acid attacks are pressing the Indian government to do more to prevent such violence, saying a new law aimed at restricting the sale of acid is being ignored.
In response to their campaign, the Indian Supreme Court on Dec. 3 ordered all states to comply with the law, which went into effect in February after a deadly gang rape in New Delhi last year galvanized public anger over violence toward women. It prohibits the sale of acid unless the seller maintains a record of the buyers and orders states to pay acid attack victims US$1,400 in compensation.
The law is among a wave of changes implemented after the New Delhi rape case, including a provision that called for stiffer prison terms — a minimum of 10 years and up to life imprisonment — and no bail for those who carry out acid attacks.
Highly concentrated acids are readily available in India for use as household and industrial cleaners. The liquids are often produced locally and are dirt cheap.
Earlier, acid attacks came under a general category of crimes that caused hurt, or grievous hurt, or attempted murder. Indian laws did not take into account the disfiguration of a woman in an acid attack as a separate crime.
Mukherjee's attackers were freed after serving three years in prison.
Some 1,500 acid attacks are reported worldwide every year, according to the London-based charity Acid Survivors Trust International. The group says the actual figure is likely to be far higher because so many victims are too scared to speak out.
India has no official statistics on the matter, but reports of acid attacks appear regularly in the media. Attackers often target the head and face in order to maim, disfigure and blind their victims, often because of spurned sexual advances.