Need For Reforms In The Existing Schemes For Acid Attack Victims
This Blog is written by Medha Anand from Galgotias University, Uttar Pradesh. Edited by Maulika Awasthi.
Crimes in India are developing at alarming speed the crimes against women are Rape, Domestic Violence, Molestation, and Sexual Harassment, etc. Out of these activities, Acid Attack is one of the atrocities against women which is growing rapidly. The victims in each case mentioned are suffering from a serious injury let it be physical or mental and due to this their psychological health is disturbed resulting to commit suicide. Acid attack is a case that can be differentiated from other atrocities against women by their physical appearance.
The compensation part of the rehabilitation of victims of violence including rape is governed by provision of Section 357A of the Code of Criminal Procedure which states that every State Government in co-ordination with the Central Government shall prepare a scheme for providing funds for the purpose of compensation to the victim of crime. So far 24 states and 7 UTs have formulated the Victim Compensation Scheme.
The government has introduced a Central Victim Compensation Fund (CVCF) scheme[i], with an initial corpus of Rs 200 crores, to enable support to victims of rape, acid attacks, human trafficking and women killed or injured in the cross border firing. Till now, there has been an absurd disparity in compensation amount paid by state governments varying from Rs 10,000 to Rs 10 lakh.
Definition and Meaning of Acid Attack:
As per the provision of “Prevention of Offences (by Acids) Act 2008, (National Commission for Woman – Draft Bill)” [ii]constitute the definition of Acid Attacks and Acid.
According to Section 3 of said Act –
“(a) “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.
(b) “Acid attack” means any act of throwing acid or using acid in any form on the victim with the intention of or with 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.”
In a study conducted by UNICEF reveals,
“Acid attack is a serious problem all over the world, even children are become victim of acid attack in many cases. In an Acid attack, acid is thrown at the face or body of the victim with deliberate intent to burn and disfigure. Most of the victims are girls, many below the age of 18, who have rejected sexual advances or marriage proposals. Acid attack or vitriolage is defined as the act of throwing acid onto the body of a person with the intention of injuring or disfiguring [them] out of jealousy or revenge[iii]”.
Vitriolage or acid attack means an act of throwing acid on the body of a person (it’s basically throwing upon women and young girls). In other words, it can be said that acid violence is a deliberate use of acid to attack human beings.[iv] 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 acidic or corrosive character of burning nature, capable of causing bodily injury leading to scars or disfigurement or temporary or permanent disability”.[v] 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 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 (National Commission of India, July 2009).”[vi]
SIGNIFICANCE OF DEVELOPMENT
Schemes under Acid Attack in India:
There are many schemes for which compensation or damages are given in the form of money to the victim of Acid Attack. Depending on the damage happened or done to the victim the amount is given, now here comes the 1st flaw of this scheme; it is mentioned in the scheme about how much amount is to be given, however in rare cases is the victim able to afford the bare medical expenses from the amount as specified under the various schemes. Whatever is given in the medical report determines the final quantum i.e. the amount of compensation and shall be based on the degree of damage.
- There are different schemes in India on Acid Attack such as:
- National Legal Services Authority
- NALSA (National Legal Services Authority) Scheme, 2016
- State Legal Services Authority & District Legal Services Authority
- Victim Compensation Fund
- Nirbhaya Fund
NALSA is constituted under the Legal Services Authority Act, 1987[vii]. The reason for the establishment of NALSA is to give free legal aid services to the economically weaker sections. It also acts as a legal bench for the settlement of disputes between the parties.
As Centre cannot provide much concentration on the State and District levels hence SLSA and DLSA are established to render free legal aid services to the population living there. All these units work independently but are dependent on each other. The powers are distributed accordingly and the Centre holds the maximum power among the three organizations.
Central Victim Compensation Fund is a scheme which is described under section 357 A of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 under this section the victim is given a sum of amount for the injury faced by them. The Court on the recommendations of the SLSA or DLSA decides the amount and on the report given by them, the compensation is received.
The impacts that follow after a victim is injured with acid are endless. But most important among them are as follows:
Unlike other wounds and injuries, acid burns are amongst the most horrible injuries that a human being can hardship, merely because of the nature and magnitude of the injuries are widespread, and mostly necessitate extensive medical treatment. Acid burns through skin and flesh, layer by layer, causing great pain and injury. It eats through the two layers of the skin, into the fat and muscle underneath, and sometimes down to the bone, it may dissolve the bone. The profoundness of injury depends on the brawn of the acid and the duration of the contact with the skin – the burning goes on until the acid is scrupulously washed off with water. Further, if thrown on a person’s face, acid speedily eats into eyes, ears, nose, and mouth. The pain is agonizing, as a strong burning heat cuts through the victim’s flesh like a hot knife. Eyelids and lips may burn off completely. The nose may melt, closing the nostrils and ears shrivel up. Acid can rapidly destroy the eye, causing the victim to be blind. Skin and bone of the skull, forehead, cheeks, and chin may melt. The acid usually splashes or drips over the neck, chest, back, arms or legs, burning anywhere it touches. One study found that on an average, patient suffered by acid attack burns to 14% of their body surface area, with areas most commonly affected including the face (87% of the victims), head and neck (67%), upper limbs (60%) and chest (54%). Around a third of victims (31%) suffered complete or partial blindness.[viii]
Psychological repercussion can even be more poignant and painful as compared to the physical consequences. It has the deep impact only on the victim, but also on the families of the victims. A trauma grabs the victim and also on the society and has deep root impact on the masses. A psychological trauma is suffered by the victim when she perceives that her skin is burnt off and after the attack the defacement and the disabilities with which they have to bear for the rest of their lives. Some of the psychological problems which the victims suffer are insomnia, nightmares, depression, fear of facing the world, headache, tiredness, fear of other acid attacks. They also feel despondent and worried as they think they spurned an outcast from the society.
The victim’s life gets derailed as every time she looks in the mirror she is reminded of her present insecurity as well as the despondency of the future. The orthodox and traditional Indian approach trust more in physical beauty rather than inner beauty. Not only this, but the society looks at the victim as an ‘alien’. This consequently sheds an adverse image on her empowerment and mobility.
Social and Economic Impact:
The victims who are not married are likely not to get married as they suffer from many disabilities like blindness, deafness and many others difficulties and our society’s mindset is not that wide enough to accept a disabled person as their wife. They even do not get a job notwithstanding being qualified as they cannot meet up to the expectation of their employers as not having the ‘personality’. Instead of helping them, we make their life more annoying, as we commiserate them as we do not like to look at their faces for long. However, this approach needs to be changed as they are suffering not for their wrong, but due to the fault of some savage animals roaming around the society freely. So far as economic consequences are concerned, such victims face a high bigotry when it comes to offering jobs. Therefore, it can be said that the acid attack victims go through hell this ordeal and their life becomes worse than death. Their physical scars remind them constantly of the atrocities committed on them, and a feeling of loneliness and worthlessness always haunts them.
Amidst the increasing concern for compensation to victims of crimes, section 357A was inserted in 2009 (Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973), to give effect to Victim Compensation Schemes (VCS). The scheme made way for an institutionalized payment of compensation to the victim by the state for any loss or injury caused to him by the offender. The responsibility has been imposed on the states to create and maintain a fund for the purpose. In cases where compensation paid by the accused is inadequate or no such compensation is payable on account of acquittal or discharge of the accused or the offender not being traced or identified, the VCS are applicable.
Such payment may also be allowed on the specific recommendations of the court, in addition to the compensable payable under s. 357 Cr.P.C. (1973). Section 357B Cr.P.C., (1973) specifically provides that in cases of acid attack (s. 326 A Indian Penal Code, 1860) and gang rape (s. 376D Indian Penal Code, 1860), the compensation payable by the state shall be in addition to the payment of fine to the victim under the said sections. The District Legal Services Authority (DLSA) or State Legal Services Authority (SLSA) has been authorized to decide the amount of compensation to be awarded to victims under the scheme, subject to the maximum limit prescribed by the State. In addition to payment of compensation, section 357A also attempts to respond to the immediate needs to the victims for first aid or medical benefit as well as any other interim relief, as may be required.
Pursuant to this legislative amendment, the states notified the scheme, though after an initial reluctance and prodding by the courts (Suresh v. State of Haryana, 2014). Till date, almost all states and union territories have set up the scheme to provide for payment of compensation and other reliefs to the victims and/or their dependents.
According to the National Crime Report Bureau, acid attack was started in the year 1975 but the crime got developed and became a prevalent issue in the year 2002 and growing continuously and drastically. During ancient times acid was used for printing.
Slowly the uses of acid turned not only in printing but also in a weapon for revenge. The use of acid as a weapon started to rise in developing countries mostly in South-Asia, Bangladesh was the 1st nation for such an act in the year 1963 and then comes India in which the 1st acid attack was reported in the year 1975 and Cambodia in the year 1993.[ix]
Acid was poured on a woman by her husband for refusing to grant him divorce as the perpetrator was involved in extra-marital affairs.
Acid was thrown on a woman when she was holding a two- and half-year-old baby. Here the perpetrator was brother in law of the victim.
In Marepally Venkata Sree Nagesh v. State of AP, 2002 (1) ALD Cri 905, 2002 (2) ALT Cri 52, 2002 CriLJ 3625 :
The victim was inserted Mercuric Chloride into her vagina and later on she expired due to renal failure. The perpetrator was suspicious about the character of his wife and attempted this attack.
The societal aspect of the nation is that only women are the victims of the acid attack and not men, but according to the data mentioned by NCRB it is true that men are also victims of Acid Attack. And there is a huge gender discrimination when it comes to compensation schemes in India, even after the SC guidelines in the year 2013 men are not given compensation. The existing schemes should bring out the policies for the betterment of the society by amending the existing schemes and allowing the male victims also to get equivalent compensation equally good as females counterparts. Let there be a Legislation or an Amendment which can specifically address the applicability of Sec 326(A) and Sec 326(B) Indian Penal Code, 1860 to the male victims let there be a panel of Doctors attached to all District Court in the Country to ascertain the intensity of the damage caused to the Acid Attack victim.
Further, I conclude this issue that, in my opinion, there shall be equality of justice irrespective of gender and all the victims under Acid Attack shall be compensated equally, subject to the Degree of damage. The police department should also look into the cases (on Acid Attack) which are registered in the Police Station, it can be considered as due to the lack of police involvement in the Investigation process these activities are increasing.
The victim assistance is not given until and unless the victims plead to the concerned Authorities. Though the cases of male victims of Acid Attack are less to provide justice to male victims the appropriate changes should be made. This is a very dangerous (heinous) crime and can be prevented by proper guidelines and education if the same act continuous then there might be a chance of losing humanity and the belief in the justice delivery (judicial) system in India.
An acid called “Tezab”, which is designed to clean rusted tools but it often used in the attacks can currently be bought across the counter. In February 2013, Supreme Court has directed the center that enacting a law to regulate the sale of acids and a policy for treatment, compensation and care and rehabilitation of acid attack victims. A couple of lakhs of rupees in compensation is simply nowhere near enough to deal with the unending trauma that a victim has to face. This is an insidious crime reflecting the deviant behavior. Time has changed, Laxmi, a victim of acid attack was selected by the US for the prestigious International Women of Courage Award. Ms. Laxmi received the award from Michelle Obama at an awards ceremony in Washington. Now acid attack has become a global problem but strict law and society norms can change the scenario.[x]