India's top court says gov’t not trying to stop acid attacks

by Nita Bhalla | @nitabhalla | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 9 July 2013 16:06 GMT

A grocery store owner selling a wide range of goods speaks with his employee inside his shop in a residential district in Mumbai. Photo September 14, 2012. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqu

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India's government given one week to produce framework for regulations limiting sale of widely available household cleaners, used in vicious acid attacks on women by angry, frustrated men

NEW DELHI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The Indian government is not serious about curbing the rise in acid attacks on women and must  act swiftly to control the sale of dangerous chemicals which are being used to disfigure or even kill them,  the Supreme Court said on Tuesday.

“Seriousness is not seen on the part of government in handling the issue,” a Supreme Court bench of judges said in a ruling after hearing a plea by an acid attack survivor for regulations limiting the sale and purchase of acid.

“People are dying, but you are not worried about it. Think of people who are losing their lives every day. Girls are being attacked every day in different parts of the country,” the bench, headed by Justice R.M. Lodha, said in its ruling.

The Court gave the government one week – until July 16 – to come up with a framework for rules to prevent acid from being sold to unsuitable people.

Acid violence – throwing acid with the intention to maim, disfigure or even kill the target - occurs in many countries but is most common in Cambodia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan and India where male domination of social structures persists.

Around 1,500 acid attacks are reported globally each year, 80 percent of them on women, according to the London-based charity Acid Survivors Trust International, which says this is a gross under-estimate of the real total as most victims are scared to speak out.

There are no official statistics for India, but a study conducted by Cornell University in January 2011 said 153 attacks were reported in the media from 1999 to 2010.

Many of these attacks were  acts of revenge because a woman had spurned sexual advances or rejected a marriage proposal,  the study said. Experts say the attacks are often driven by the mentality “If I can't have you, no one shall.”

In July last year, acid attack survivor Sonali Mukherjee  , 28, hit national headlines when she called on the government to allow her to commit assisted suicide, saying her life had become intolerable as she could not afford the cost of the many rounds of plastic surgery needed to help her lead a normal life.

Mukherjee, who suffered 70 percent burns when three men broke into her house at night and poured a cocktail of acids over her face as she slept, said there was no financial, medical or psychological support for acid victims, who often felt they were a burden on their families.

In May another victim, 23-year-old Preeti Rathi , had acid thrown at her by an unknown man as she left a train on her way to her first day at work as a nurse in Mumbai, India's financial capital. She died of her injuries one month later.

Activists and victims have long called on the authorities to regulate the sale of locally produced household cleaners, which contain highly concentrated acids and are easily and cheaply available in local markets across the country.

Acid is increasingly being used as a weapon like a gun, they say, but there are no laws licensing those who buy and sell these deadly chemicals,  which include neat hydrochloric acid and sulphuric acid.

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