Women make one half of our population and are a very important part of mankind. They are considered to be the most versatile and strongest gender for more reasons than one. They are capable of multitasking since they look after their family and fill in the responsibilities as a homemaker and also manage to handle their professional life. They manage to work harder than their male counterparts because of the many responsibilities they shoulder all at once.
However, it is not a hidden fact that many have faced atrocities over many years. They have been victims of heinous crimes like kidnapping, rape, and acid attack, among others. These attacks have been manifested in the past due to stereotypical thinking, which often puts females at a lower pedestal than men because they are considered to be married off and more of a burden to the family. Gender violence has come into existence due to divisions like caste, religion, creed, age, race, marital status, etc. This article will focus on one such atrocious act called the ACID ATTACK.
WHAT IS ACID ATTACK?
As the name clearly suggests, this, in its direct form, means situations wherein a female is attacked by throwing acid at her, especially toward her face. It is primarily a sex-based act since the majority of its victims if not all are women folk. The National Commission of India, defines an acid attack as "any act of throwing acid or using acid in any form on the victim with the intention of or with the knowledge that such person is likely to cause to the other person permanent or partial damage or deformity or disfiguration to any part of the body of such person".
The most commonly used form of acid is hydrochloric acid, sulphuric acid and nitric acid. These in their concentrated form can be lethal to the human skin. The acid of being thrown melts the skin off the bone and creates harsh deformities on the affected section. It is extremely sad that this is being done at an alarming rate among the girls ranging from 12 to 30 years.
The “Prevention of Offences (by Acids) Act 2008,(National Commission for Women – Draft Bill)” gives a clear-cut definition of what constitutes an acid and an acid attack.
According to Section 3 of said Act: "Acid shall mean and includes any substance which has the character of acidic or corrosive or burning nature that is capable of causing bodily injuries leading to scars or disfigurement or temporary or permanent disability.” "Acid attack means any act of throwing acid or using acid in any form on the victim with the intent of or with the knowledge that such person is likely to cause to the other person Permanent or partial damage or deformity or disfiguration to any part of the body of such person.”
The Indian Penal Code, 1860 by virtue of Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 under the Explanation 1 of Section 326B has defined acid to include: "any substance which has the acidic or corrosive character or burning nature, capable of causing bodily injury leading to scars or disfigurement or temporary or permanent disability". National Commission of India, July 2009, Acid attack can be perceived as "any act of throwing acid or using acid in any form on the victim with the intention of or with the knowledge that such person is likely to cause to the other person permanent or partial damage or deformity or disfiguration to any part of the body of such person.”
There are some pressing reasons which often lead to such an act, these consist of the following:
Patriarchal Society- The type of society we live in has been dominated by males for decades. They have always been keen on suppressing the voices of women and undermining their position in society. Men get agitated in situations where they receive a negative response from a woman and this leads to them being angry and taking the matter in their own hands. While wanting to teach them a lesson, they choose to suppress their voices by throwing acid at them and disrupting their lives.
Domestic Violence- Women have been victims of domestic violence both in marriages and out of them, which often causes the women to become vulnerable. Often the non-availability of dowry also leads to agitation among the women’s husband and her in-laws. Refusal to obey leads to them becoming victims of acid attacks.
Easy availability of Acid- With the lack of regulations governing the sale of acid in goldsmith shops, pharmacies, automobile repair shops, etc., they can be bought easily. Moreover, the inexpensive nature also aids in the same.
Jealousy- In the kind of competitive world in which we preside, there exists constant competition in business, education, and other sectors. Peer jealousy is a real thing and often, women get in the middle of the crossfire.
Family Honour- Women are perceived as the honor keepers of the family, and by attacking them, often the family enemies try to harm the other family’s honor and put their lives on danger
The consequences of an acid attack are far-ranging since it affects the person physically, economically, socially as well as mentally. Physically the gruesome-looking deformities affect the person; economically, they have to arrange much money to treat those burns before it hurts their internal tissues. They become extremely conscious of the way they look; hence, their social interactions drastically reduce. Lastly, their mental health takes a hit because they get affected psychologically and suffer from a lifelong trauma.
In India, the onset of attacks started to be registered under the following Indian Penal Code (I.P.C). Sections:
Section 320 - Grievous Hurt:
The following kinds of hurt only are designated as "grievous":- “ Firstly- Emasculation Secondly - Permanent privation of the sight of either eye. Thirdly - Permanent privation of the hearing of either ear, Fourthly - Privation of any member or joint. Fifthly - Destruction or permanent impairing of the powers of any member or joint. Sixthly - Permanent disfiguration of head or face. Seventhly - Fracture or dislocation of a bone or tooth, Eighthly - Any hurt which endangers life or which causes the sufferer to be during the space of twenty days in severe bodily pain, or unable to follow his ordinary pursuits.”
Section 322 - Voluntarily Causing Grievous Hurt:
“Whoever voluntarily causes hurt, if the hurt which he intends to cause or knows himself to be likely to cause is grievous hurt, and if the hurt which he causes is grievous hurt, is said to "voluntarily to cause grievous hurt".
Section 325 - Punishment For Voluntarily Causing Grievous Hurt:
“Whoever, except in the case provided for by Section 335, (Voluntarily causing grievous hurt on provocation), voluntarily causes grievous hurt, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to seven years, and shall also be liable to fine.”
Section 326 – Voluntarily Causing Grievous Hurt By Dangerous Weapons Or Means:
“Whoever, except in the case provided for by Section 335, voluntarily causes grievous hurt by means of any instrument for shooting, stabbing or cutting, or any instrument which, used as a weapon of offense, is likely to cause death, or by means of fire or any heated substance, or by means of any poison or any corrosive substance, or by means of any explosive substance, or by means of any substance which it is deleterious to the human body to inhale, to swallow, or to receive into the blood, or by means of any animal, shall be punished with imprisonment for life or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.”
Section 307 - Attempt To Murder:
“Whoever does any act with such intention or knowledge, and under such circumstances that, if he by that the act caused death, he would be guilty of murder, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine, and if hurt is caused to any person by such act, the offender shall be liable either to imprisonment for life or to such punishment as is hereinbefore mentioned.” Section 326 A states: “Whoever causes permanent or partial damage or deformity to, or burns or mains or disfigures or disables, any part or parts of the body of a person or causes grievous hurt by throwing acid on or by administering acid to that person, or by using any other means with the intention of causing or with the knowledge that he is likely to cause such injury or hurt shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which shall not be less than ten years but which may extend to imprisonment for life, and with a fine. Provided that such fine shall be enough and reasonable to meet the expenses for medical treatment of the victim and any fine imposed under this Section shall be paid to the victim.” Section 326 B states: “Whoever throws or attempts to throw acid on any person or attempts to administer acid to any person, or attempts to use any other means, with the intention of causing permanent or partial damage or deformity or burns or maiming or disfigurement or disability or grievous hurt to that person shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which shall not be less than five years but which may extend to seven years, and shall also be liable to fine.”
We discussed what an acid attack is, what are the possible reasons for its occurrence and how it affects the victim. Thereafter, it is possible that the Indian subcontinent has provided us with legal ways to tackle the problem by introducing the previously mentioned sections. However, there is still room for improvement since our country does not endorse any provision for penalizing acid attacks, which causes such cases to run for a longer number of years in the courtrooms. Furthermore, there is a requirement for a greater number of awareness campaigns to help people understand the problem in detail so that they can handle it with much-needed sensitivity and care.
--  Prevention of Offences (by Acids) Act (NCW-Draft Bill), 2008, § 3, Acts of Parliament, 2008 (India).  The Criminal Law Act, 2013, No. 13, Acts of Parliament, 2013 (India).  PEN. CODE. § 320.  PEN. CODE. § 322.  PEN. CODE. § 325.  PEN. CODE. § 326.  PEN. CODE. § 307.  PEN. CODE. § 326A.  PEN. CODE. § 326B.
This article is written by Snigdha Ghose of Gujarat National Law University.