Acid attacks and Legal Framework in India
Second year law student at University of Glasgow
In India, acid attacks—where caustic acids are thrown against a person with the intention of disfiguring and irreversibly harming them—are an unsettling reality. India has one of the highest rates of acid attacks per capita, even though acid violence transpires everywhere. The victims of these attacks, who are primarily women endure serious physical, psychological, and social harm. Retaliation or rejection are frequently the driving forces behind these attacks.
Official data from the National Crime Records Bureau indicates that over 1,300 acid attack cases were registered in 2016 alone, yet numerous other incidents evade reporting each year. Victims are compelled to endure prolonged legal proceedings that exacerbate their trauma. While survivors have intrepidly championed activism to combat acid violence, India's criminal justice system was lethargic in promulgating targeted legislation. Only after consistent public interest litigations and advocacy initiatives by activists did amendments materialize in 2013 to the Indian Penal Code, instituting harsher penalties for acid crimes. However, the actual number of attacks is speculated to be much higher than reported, as victims, especially women, are deterred from approaching authorities due to social stigma or lack of family support. The tedious legal process further dissuades victims, indicating deep systemic failures in promptly prosecuting acid crimes and securing justice for survivors. Their courageous crusade was instrumental in the eventual enactment of strict laws, affirming that policy reform requires the collective efforts of civil society and perseverant campaigners along with legislative action. Nevertheless, much work remains to implement these measures stringently to deter acid attacks and prosecute perpetrators.
Although they have received increased attention recently, acid attacks are not a recent occurrence in India. But the legislation pertaining to acid assaults is still being developed.
Causes of Acid Attacks:
Spurned ardour - Acid attacks are oft precipitated by unrequited ardour when romantic overtures are repudiated. The spurned paramour resorts to vitriolic vengeance by bathing the object of their affection in corrosive acid.
Contentious dowries - Dowry imbroglios frequently incite avaricious in-laws to deploy acid as an expedient apparatus for avowing avarice. The rapacious groom and his consanguineous affiliates subjugate the hapless bride if their mercenary demands are not pleased.
Disputed heredity - Rancorous conflicts over ancestral lands and properties inherited through generations can also engender acid attacks as acts of malign retribution.
Entrenched enmity - Long-standing antipathy between feuding factions, whether among families, castes or communities, is an underlying catalyst. The belligerents view acid as an insidious instrument to cripple and deface their loathed enemies.
Physical trauma-Acid liquefies skin tissue, revealing bones frequently and leaving a person permanently blind or disfigured. It takes several reconstructive procedures.
Psychological trauma- As a result of their disfigurement, victims experience dread, anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem. Experiences of trauma affect socioeconomic engagement.
Social stigma- Because survivors are perceived as unfit for marriage or the workforce, society frequently shuns them. Victims receive less social support and are left in isolation.
Economic hardship- The expenses of treatment, in addition to missed work and employment because of a disability, make poverty in the families of survivors worse.
Issues with the justice system- Low conviction rates brought on by a dearth of witnesses and protracted legal proceedings discourage victims from pursuing justice.
The complex ethology highlights the deeply entrenched gender and social inequities underlying acid attacks, whilst the devastating sequelae underscore the necessity of holistic rehabilitation for survivors.
Overview of acid attack laws:
The Indian Penal Code does not contain any explicit laws dealing with acid attacks. However, there are several sections under the IPC that can be used to prosecute crimes involving acid violence. Nonetheless, offences using acid, such as intentionally inflicting grievous hurt, intentionally causing substantial damage using dangerous weapons or methods, and intentionally causing great harm using acid, may be prosecuted under sections 320 and 322–326. The penalties prescribed under these relevant sections range from 1 year to 7 years of imprisonment. Though not tailored to acid crimes, these existing provisions can be applied to prosecute and punish acid violence.
The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, enacted by Parliament in 2013, encompassed new sections 326A and 326B to the IPC that address acid attacks specifically. Acid throwing or voluntary attempts to throw acid are subject up to five years in jail and a fine under Section 326A. For acid assaults that result in permanent damage or disfigurement, Section 326B stipulates fines and terms of imprisonment ranging from 10 years to life.
To restrict acid's easy accessibility and improper usage, the Supreme Court has recently released restrictions for its sale. Only adults over the age of 18 may purchase acid, according to the regulations, provided they present a photo ID card, and the seller documents the sale.
Key judicial decisions:
The Supreme Court of India has passed several judgements that highlight the seriousness of acid attacks and the need to compensate victims.
In the Parivartan Kendra v Union of India case (2015), the Supreme Court instructed all state governments to develop policies to rehabilitate survivors and provide them financial compensation. Additionally, in the Laxmi v Union of India case (2014), the Court ruled that acid attacks infringe upon a person's right to live with dignity, which is guaranteed under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. As part of this case, the Court ordered state regulation of acid sales and minimum compensation of Rs. 3 lakhs for victims.
Through these landmark judgements, the Supreme Court has asserted the gravity of acid crimes, established victims' rights to rehabilitation and remuneration, and urged legislative action to prevent future attacks.
Analysis of Legal Framework:
The inclusion of acid attack-specific sections 326A and 326B in the Indian Penal Code, along with Supreme Court directives, have enhanced the legal framework surrounding acid crimes. However, some gaps remain:
Firstly, the minimum sentences prescribed in these new IPC sections are considered inadequate by legal experts and the Supreme Court itself. Section 326B stipulates a minimum 10-year sentence for acid attacks causing permanent disfigurement, which the Supreme Court has ruled to be grossly insufficient for the gravity of the offence. The law must be amended to increase the minimum punishment.
Secondly, despite Supreme Court orders mandating compensation for acid victims, many states are yet to formulate policies in compliance. This delay has deprived numerous survivors of the mandated rehabilitation and remuneration. State governments must act swiftly to establish compensation schemes.
Thirdly, regulations on acid sales imposed by the Supreme Court are frequently violated, enabling easy retail access to acids. To prevent this, stricter penalties for flouting sales rules must be levied on vendors. Additionally, state authorities must stringently monitor and license acid sales to curb illegal supply channels.
In summation, whilst India has augmented the legal framework to address acid offenses, the extant legislation necessitates sterner punitive measures and tailored rehabilitation programs. Judicial pronouncements upholding victims' entitlements are doubtlessly consequential, however their execution remains deficient. More stringent oversight of acid vending is imperative to deter these egregious felonies. The jurisprudence must continue to progress, instituting proportional castigation and redressal mechanisms for acid casualties. The State must expedite equitable amelioration for survivors of these reprehensible violations. Holistic victim support coupled with deterrent punishment can transform India's battle against the scourge of acid ferocity. The lawful ethos must constantly strive to parallel the profound physical and emotional agony unleashed by these attacks with commensurate legal censures. Simultaneously, rehabilitative infrastructure and prompt compensation ought to reify victims’ rights to heal and rebuild lives devastated by acid's corrosive wrath.