12/16/2022, 17.24
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Acid attacks in India are a social and legal issue

by Alessandra De Poli

The country has the highest number of such attacks worldwide. In 60 per cent of cases, victims do not report the attack because the wheels of justice turn at a snail’s pace. The reasons behind the violence are rooted in a patriarchal culture.

Milan (AsiaNews) – Two days ago, two youths on a bicycle threw acid at a 17-year-old girl hitting her in the eyes. The victim was on her way to school in Mohan Garden, southwest of Delhi, with her younger sister.

Three people were arrested in connection with the crime, one of them was a friend of the girl who sought revenge after the two had a falling-out.

Police said the acid was likely ordered online, while doctors said the extent of the burns would not be known for a few days.

Acid attacks against girls and young women are a never-ending scourge in India, which has held the world record of cases every year.

It is estimated that at least a thousand cases out of some 1,500 reported worldwide take place in India. Some 90 per cent of attacks are in developing countries, including Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, Colombia.

Despite attempts by the Indian government and the Supreme Court to stem the problem, the numbers keep on rising.

Based on partial data (because about an estimated 60 per cent of cases are not reported), the number of cases rose from 80 in 2010 to 240 in 2019.

According to various studies, this increase is largely due to India’s patriarchal culture (over 80 per cent of cases involved women) and the country’s poor legal protections.

In addition, acid not only causes painful burns and permanent scarring to the victims, but also psychological trauma that will last a lifetime.

This problem also has a social and economic impact on the victims, who end up isolated, stigmatised, and hard to hire in certain lines of work.

In short, a bottle of cheap corrosive substance, which can be easily found, will ruin a woman’s life in just a few seconds.

Until 2013 India’s Penal Code had nothing specific for this type of crime, considered by the Indian Supreme Court worse than murder.

Until a few years ago, anyone convicted of such bodily harm could expect at worse a year in prison and a fine worth a thousand rupees (US$ 12).

Following the passing of the Criminal Amendment Act (CMA), offenders can now expect to get seven to 10 years in prison, while a 2015 Supreme Court ruling provides free medical care for the victim and a US$ 4,500 fine for the offender.

However, changing the penal code has proven ineffective so far, since the wheels of Indian justice are so slow.

According to a study conducted last year by researcher Vidhik Kumar, 90 per cent of acid attack cases reported in a year do not reach the trial phase until 12 months later, while the conviction rate was 2.45 per cent in 2016, 3.39 per cent in 2017 and 3.36 per cent in 2018.

Such low percentages are mainly due to slow investigations and a time-consuming justice system, a situation that discourages victims from reporting since memories fade over time, evidence withers, while legal fees for victims mount.

Under the Criminal Amendment Act, unrestricted over-the-counter sales of various corrosive substances (used mostly to clean bathrooms) are banned, while sellers are required to keep a log (registry) with information about authorised buyers.

Yet, the Delhi Commission for Women found that acids are widely available in one-litre bottles in several shops in the capital for less than one rupee (US$ 0.012), and shopkeepers often have no idea what the law says.

A cultural change is needed to address the issue. The reasons for such attacks lie with India’s patriarchal culture.

Around the world, attacks are more common in countries where the gender gap is most pronounced, but India still has a higher rate of attacks than nations with roughly the same level of gender inequality. In 76 per cent of cases, the offender is a person known to the victim.

The leading reasons for aggressions are refusal of marriage proposals or sexual advances, personal enmity, suspicion of extramarital affairs, jealousy of the victim’s beauty or success, and disputes over property with the victim’s family (often related to dowry).


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