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Millennium Post

Time to stop this deadly menace

Now that the Supreme Court rap has landed on the back of all state governments and union territories, hopefully they will wake up and smell the coffee over the unregulated acid sales all across the country. An apex court bench, led by Justice RM Lodha, has categorically directed the respective governments to frame laws to bring acid sales under control, in addition to seeking response for providing free treatment to acid attack victims, including bearing the cost of protracted reconstructive surgeries. The Supreme Court order was much-needed, since most of the states, with the exception of some like Bihar, Jammu and Kashmir and Puducherry, have not taken steps to curb unlicenced acid sales, even though the number of acid attacks has been rising over the years. Most of the victims of acid attacks have been women and this heinous crime perhaps should be categorised at par with rape since the woman is scarred for life, literally. Severe disfigurement of the face and body is a routine consequence of acid hurling, and much like rape, the emotional trauma is too overbearing to render in words. Despite a number a civil society bodies and NGOs coming together to take up the cause of the acid attack victims, seeking compensation for their rehabilitation, both physical and emotional, the government has been lackadaisical, to say the least. In fact, the enormity of the crime and the casualness with its it’s committed, speak volumes on the ramshackle safety measures that are available to women in our bustling cities and emerging suburban towns.

It is telling that until March 2013, acid attack was not even a cognisable and punishable offence under Indian Penal Code. And it is only after the fatal 16 December Delhi gang rape had shocked the collective conscience of the nation that the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 spruced up law of the land so as to take violence against women seriously. Under the new law, a person convicted of an acid attack faces a minimum of 10 years in prison and maximum life sentence, thereby bringing in some parity in addressing the range of crimes that had hitherto gone unnoticed, uncategorized and brushed under the thick carpet of deafening social silence. Acid attacks are not only symptomatic of a deeply-entrenched culture of cruelty and brutality towards women, they are also a sign of how dispensable a woman’s body is culturally and socially for the hostile patriarchal edifice. In fact, this off-hand mutilation of a woman’s face and body indicates that men consider it at the level as tarnishing or defacing someone’s property, in an uncouth and ill-advised attempt to rob the woman of agency and authority over her body. Both rape and acid attack are instruments of inflicting damage on the woman’s body, assaulting her bodily integrity, so as to throw her out of the patriarchal circuits of matrimony and marital sex. Now that previously unrecognised but extremely disturbing and misogynist behaviours such as stalking, voyeurism, acid attacks, forcible public disrobing etc are criminally offensive and punishable under the new, reinvigorated law, it is a shame that the governments did not think it necessary to frame rules to suit the new violent realities of our times. Hopefully, the SC order will push them towards doing the needful.
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