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NCW pushes for law against acid attacks on women

With the death of K Swapnika, victim of an acid attack, on December 30, the need for a special law to deal with this terrible crime becomes urgent

An acid attack, allegedly by a spurned lover, claimed yet another life on December 30, 2008, as 21-year-old engineering student K Swapnika succumbed to her injuries in a Hyderabad hospital. 

On December 10, 2008, Swapnika and her friend T Praneetha, who was riding pillion, had acid thrown on them by three men, one of whom was in love with Swapnika. The three youths were picked up by the police, let out on bail, and subsequently shot in an “encounter” when they took the police to the spot where they had hidden the acid and some weapons. According to police reports, they attacked the police during the search.  

Acid attacks on women are common in India, which does not have a specific law to deal with such incidents. Every year, women are killed, maimed, blinded or scarred for life for rejecting suitors, refusing to have sex, defying custom, or becoming victims of family feuds and land disputes.  

A 20-year-old tailor in Delhi’s Model Town area threw acid on two teenage sisters. The tailor wanted to marry the younger sister but the girl’s mother told him that her elder daughter had to be married off first. Angered by the delay, he threw acid on both sisters -- apparently to teach them and their mother a lesson. 

In a famous case, the Campaign and Struggle Against Acid Attacks on Women (CSAAAW) helped Hasina Hussain get justice after her ex-boss Joseph Rodrigues poured 1.5 litres of sulphuric acid on her when she quit her job in his company, in 1999. The acid melted her face, fused her shoulder and neck, burnt a hole in her head, merged her fingers and blinded her for life. In 2006, the Karnataka High Court sentenced Rodrigues to life imprisonment. 

The Union government’s National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) does not have separate figures for the number of acid victims but it is estimated that at least 100 women are subjected to acid attacks in India every year. CSAAAW has compiled a list of 65 cases in Karnataka alone, between 1999 and 2008.  

The National Commission for Women (NCW) is pushing for a specific law to deal with such cases. It has come up with a draft of the Prevention of Offences (by Acids) Act, 2008, which is with the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development for vetting. After its approval, the Bill will be sent to the law ministry before it is tabled in Parliament to be passed as law. 

One of the problems with this type of crime, like several other crimes against women, is that the police do not take strong enough action when complaints are registered. Swapnika’s father had lodged a complaint against the chief accused, S Srinivas Rao, for vandalising his motorcycle two months before the attack on Swapnika took place. Women activists also want the easy availability of acid to be curbed.   

Source: www.ndtv.com, December 31, 2008
            www.rediff.com, December 31, 2008
            Daily Excelsior, December 2008