Acid attacks, like other forms of violence against women, are not random or natural phenomena. Rather, they are social phenomena deeply embedded in a gender order that has historically privileged patriarchal control over women and justified the use of violence to “keep women in their places”. In many countries, women are victims of acid attacks when they allegedly or actually transgress hegemonic gender norms and roles that discriminate against women and keep them in subordinated positions.
Acid attacks trends:
A special report on combating acid attacks in Cambodia, India and Bangladesh was developed by the Avon Global Centre for Women and Justice at Cornell Law School, the Committee on International Human Rights of the New York City Bar Association, the Cornell Law School International Human Rights Clinic, and the Virtue Foundation. in 2011 which indicated that the number of reported acid attacks is likely much lower than the actual number of attacks, but it appears that the incidents of acid attacks are increasing. The year 2014 saw a never-before 309 acid attack incidents being reported from across the country. This is almost 300 per cent more than the average number of such cases witnessed during the preceding three years.
Cheap and easy availability of acid:
Acid is used as a weapon in many countries because concentrated acid is cheap and easily available. In India, a litre of hydrochloric acid costs between Rs.16 and Rs. 25 ($0.37 to $0.57 USD). Similarly, in a bottle of sulphuric acid sells in Dhaka, Bangladesh for as little as Tk.15 ($ 0.15 USD).
Intended victims of acid violence are often young people. Out of 153 cases of acid attacks reported in newspapers in India from January 2002 to October 2010, nearly 34% of cases, victims were between 18 and 29 years old. Furthermore, in 14% of cases, victims were between three months and 17 years old and included children who were unintended victims. Uttar Pradesh topped the list with 185 cases till November 2014, followed by Madhya Pradesh with 53 cases. The capital witnessed 27 cases in 2014.
Acid attack perpetrators do not usually intend to kill their victims, but to cause long-lasting physical damage and emotional trauma.81 Such attackers commonly aim at the face, neck, and upper-body. In some cases, perpetrators throw acid at sexual and reproductive areas of the body—including the breasts, buttocks, and vagina. Even if the perpetrator does not intend to cause death, the injuries sustained by the victim may still result in death. Indeed, even if the attacker intends to disfigure the victim, for example, as retaliation for rejecting a marriage proposal or to create an unexpected burden for the victim’s family as revenge against the family, the victim may nonetheless die due to severe wounds inflicted during the acid attack. On the other hand, there are also cases in which the perpetrator has forced the victim to drink acid—suggesting that the perpetrator intended to kill the victim.
Bangladesh is the only country that has adopted specific laws against acid violence and strict regulations for business users of acid to obtain licenses. Although Cambodia has proposed a similar legislation, it has not yet been adopted. However, India has rejected the need for additional laws to curb the easy availability of acid but enacted on IPC section 326 A to enhanced punishment for acid throwing. Since Bangladesh’s adoption of death penalty for acid attacks and laws strictly controlling the sale, use, storage, and international trade of acid in 2002, the rate of acid violence has decreased by 15% to 20% each year, while acid attacks continue to rise in India and other South Asian countries.
The writer is an Associate Fellow of HEA and Academic Researcher at the Anglia Ruskin University