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'Just salt on our wounds': Acid attack victims remain unhappy with SC rulings

The Supreme Court ruling on the need for greater government compensation for acid attack victims evoked mixed feelings in Sonali Mukherjee. Sonali, 28, sustained more than 70% burns in an acid attack.

While she is happy that the court ruling will provide government aid to acid attack victims in the future, the new ruling doesn’t tackle her hardships and that of many other women who were attacked in past. “What about others like me who have already been attacked? The only way you can imagine my agony is to experience it for yourself,” she said, commenting on her decade-long trauma after the attack which left her blind in one eye.

The apex court on Thursday also ordered regulations of over the counter sale of acid. Retailers will have to ask for identity card of the buyer. The substance cannot be sold to minors and retailers will have to maintain a register, failing which they can be penalised for Rs50,000. The apex court has directed state governments to formulate rules to regulate the sale of the chemical, based on the union government rules.

Representative image of acid attack victim. AFP

Representative image of acid attack victim. AFP

Acid attack victims and activists said that it was step in the right direction, but the real challenge would be to implement the court order in its totality.

“There must be lakhs of stores selling acids across India,” says Sonali. “I doubt if any government agency can monitor over the counter sales. And you don’t necessarily have to go to a shop to buy acid. It is present in the batteries of inverters, bikes and cars. One can always procure it from these batteries. We demand a complete ban on the use of acid in every form.”

Sonali added how it was unfortunate that despite thousands of acid attack cases in the country, the government did not acknowledge the problem for so long. “The apex court had to intervene and give directions to the government. But it is not too late. The Centre should bring in a law in this regard. It is the executive’s ambit and not that of judiciary,” she said.

The court has also ruled that the government should pay Rs 3 lakh as compensation to acid attack victims- Rs 1 lakh within 15 days of the incident and Rs 2 lakh in the next two months. Victims of acid attacks said it was the mockery of the amount spent on reconstructive surgeries.

“Putting salt on wounds” is how Archana Kumari, an acid attack victim in Faridabad, Delhi’s satellite town, described the amount of monetary compensation. Archana has spent Rs15 lakhs on 25 surgeries she has undergone since she was attacked in 2008. “This is a joke. Each surgery of mine cost more than Rs 2 lakh.  The court should have asked the government to bear the entire treatment cost,” she said.

The SC order resulted from a PIL filed by Laxmi, an acid attack victim who was attacked in 2006. She was then 13 years old.

At the behest of the SC, in Laxmi’s case, the Law Commission suggested that a new section regarding injury caused by acid attack be inserted in the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The Commission recommended a jail term from 10 years to life imprisonment and a fine up to Rs 10 lakh for those who were found guilty of such attacks.

But the Union Home Ministry, a respondent in the matter, rejected the need for a new section in the IPC.

To curb cases of acid attack in India, Alox Dixit, member of ‘Stop Acid Attacks’ campaign, cited the example of Bangladesh which has enacted strict laws regarding the issue. “In 2002, the Bangladesh government enacted two laws viz Acid Offences Prevention Act and Acid Control Act. The combined affect of these Acts is that the investigation of such cases has to be completed within 30 days and court hearing to be finished in 90 days of the incident. They have also set up Acid Prevention Tribunals to exclusively deal with such cases,” he said.