(Published in Sify.com on April 21, 2015, retrieved from http://www.sify.com/news/no-acid-attack-victims-story-has-a-fairytale-ending-news-columns-pevlLCbdhcgda.html)
Over the last week, the wedding between acid attack victim Sonali Mukherjee and her partner Chittaranjan Tiwari has been celebrated in the media.
This is the story: A man is moved by the life-story of a girl who was attacked when she was 17, and who overcame the assault on her physical faculties to win 25 lakh rupees on Kaun Banega Crorepati; he gets in touch with her, and they become friends; eventually, they fall in love and marry.
It is the perfect media story.
Here’s a girl whose life appeared to be over. She falls in love. She marries.
Here’s a man who has set an example to everyone. He sees beyond the scars.
The fact is, this is no fairytale ending. Because it was no fairy tale. There was no witches’ curse. There was no Prince Charming. There were three cruel criminals who decided to attack a woman who would not entertain their advances; they got away scot free; she lost her sight, her hearing, and her speech. She has had several reconstructive surgical procedures, and will need several more. That is not a fairy tale.
A man fell in love with her, and this would not be out of the ordinary if she had not been attacked. That is not a fairy tale.
No girl dreams that she will be blinded and disfigured in the most painful and cruellest of ways, serving a life sentence while her attackers live their lives. That is not a fairy tale.
It is the worst thing that could happen to anyone.
It isn’t the most pleasant thing, either, for one’s wedding to make the front page news in several national dailies, all of which sing paeans to the magnanimity of the man who would marry a victim of an acid attack.
More than two years ago, I had written about the horrific situation with regard to acid attacks in India.
Even now, there is hardly any control over the sale of corrosive acids, that could kill or severely impair a human being on which they are used.
Even as we speak about the increase in molestation and rape cases across the country, we are not speaking enough about a crucial aspect of women’s safety – acid attacks.
A study found that the most prominent causes of acid attacks in India are domestic violence, dowry demands, marital rejections, and suspicion of infidelity.
In other words, a woman who will not concede to the demands of a stalker, lover, or husband, stands the risk of being attacked with acid. Her case will not be documented, as there is no separate section in the Indian Penal Code that deals with acid attacks. Her attackers will be sentenced to a maximum of three years in prison, and can get bail right after they are arrested. Most are never punished.
We don’t seem to realise that the issue of acid attacks is as closely tied in with women’s rights as rape, and is at least as grave a crime. It scars a woman physically, mentally, emotionally, and financially, for the rest of her life.
Yet, we haven’t been discussing a way of finding a solution.
It has been nearly two years since the Supreme Court imposed regulations on the sale of acid. Over-the-counter sales were banned, unless the buyer showed identity proof, and logged his or her address and reasons for buying the acid. Minors are not allowed to buy acid. Yet, a few months ago, a lady doctor was attacked in Delhi by two juveniles, allegedly acting on behalf of a stalker. Since then, media investigations have shown that these rules are largely ignored.
It is certainly not impossible to bring in stringent measures to control the sale of acid, or to increase the punishment for perpetrators of acid attacks.
Bangladesh has brought down the number of acid attacks by eighty percent over the last decade by taking two simple measures – the government increased the punishment for attackers; and it mandated that all manufacturers, importers, distributers and consumers of all acids should be licensed.
It is disgusting that we are forced to discuss the percentages of acid attacks.
And it is worse that we don’t have the means to do so because there are no officials statistics available.
It is even worse that, despite almost daily reports of acid attacks on women, we don’t have rules in place to put an end to it.
Worst of all is that we are shamelessly terming Sonali’s story a “fairy tale”.