Acid attacks in the judicial perspective
Symbiosis Law School, Hyderabad
An Acid Attack, a Vitriol Assault or Vitriolage, is a type of violent assault characterized as an act of tossing acid or a similarly corrosive substance onto the body of another “with the intent of deforming, mutilating, tormenting, or killing”. Culprits of these assaults pour corrosive fluids at their victims, most frequently at their faces, burning and damaging skin tissue, generally exposing and at times corroding the bones.
250 to 300 Acid Attacks are reported every year in India while many such cases go unreported. This number is despite various laws existing in the country banning acids and similar corrosive substances. In 2013 Acid attacks were classified as an offence punishable by up to 10 years in prison, prior to 2013 no law specifically dealt with the offence of Acid attack.
National crime records bureau reported 45 instances of acid attack in 2014. In 2015, 249 cases were accounted for from all over India, out of which 61 cases were reported from Uttar Pradesh. Women in India are at a higher risk of acid attacks, 72% of acid attacks accounted for in India had women as the victims. In India, around 350 cases are reported annually, while independent research conducted by an association Acid Survivors Foundation India, assessed roughly 500–1000 cases for each year in India, barring unreported incidents. There is no dependable national database to record and combat acid attacks thus numerous cases go unreported.
In 2016 The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act was amended to classifying acid attack victims as physically disabled, providing them with education and employment. The act also reserved 3% of Government jobs for the victims of acid attacks.
Perpetrators of acid attacks generally are motivated by jealousy and feelings of revenge against a woman which is often a result of the rejection of a proposal of marriage or sexual advances by the victim. In certain instances demands of dowry or domestic violence also lead to acid attacks. Conflicts regarding inheritance and other disputes related to rights to the property also result in acid attacks. Perpetrators of acid attacks act deliberately and cruelly. Acid attack is a planned act of violence as the culprit of the crime completes the attack by first acquiring the acid, carrying it on his person and after that stalking the unfortunate victim before executing the crime.
Moreover, an acid attack has enduring effects on the life of the person in question who faces unending torment, perpetual harm and other issues for the remainder of her life. Victims typically feel useless, apprehensive and disfigured and become social outsiders in light of their appearance. They may turn out to also be too traumatized and humiliated to leave their home and perform simple tasks not to mention get married, have children, find an occupation, get an education, and so forth. Regardless of whether they are to pursue an ordinary life, there is no assurance that society itself will regard them as ordinary people given their appearance and incapacities after an attack. They will be unable to work, and thus, will ceaselessly struggle to survive.
Acid attacks are a form of violence where the attacker pours or throws some kind of acid or corrosive substance on their victims mostly targeting the face of the victim in order to disfigure their victim and is mostly focused on damaging the physical appearance of the victim. Many studies have been conducted to find out the magnitude of acid attacks and related offences in India this research paper studies the various aspects of acid attacks and analyze the frequency and distribution of such offences throughout the country. The paper also studies the motives of the perpetrators behind such attacks along with the social, medical, psychological and financial impact of acid attacks on the victims. This paper studies the laws governing the offences of Vitriolage in India in light of judgments given by the courts and compares them with international statutes. It also studies the impact of the 226th law commission report on the laws governing offences of acid attacks as well as forwards some suggestions for the better rehabilitation of the victims.
Acid Attacks in India
Incidents of acid attacks have been on a rise in India. Although an acid attack is an atrocity that can be committed against any man or woman, it has a particular gender measurement in India. A large portion of the revealed acid attacks has been committed on women, especially young girls for rejecting suitors, for dismissing proposals of marriage, for not giving dowery and so forth. The attacker can’t accept the fact that he has been rejected and tries to harm the body of the woman who has set out to face him. Apart from reasons stated above land disputes and robbery are often reasons for acid attacks.
Prior to 2016 incidents of Acid attacks were categorized under grievous hurt in the Indian Penal Code (I.P.C) and fell under section 320. The application of the general definition of grievous hurt in cases of acid attack has been scrutinized as the definition doesn’t take into account the different sorts of intentional hurt that are incurred on important parts of a woman’s body nor does this definition apply to incidents of acid attack in which multiple kinds of grievous hurts happen.
Section 326 of the Indian Penal Code which applies in instances of intentionally causing grievous hurt using any corrosive liquid is punishable with imprisonment for life or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to 10 years and fine. Accordingly, the penalty for willfully causing grievous hurt even by corrosive substances like an acid attack can be imprisonment for life or with imprisonment for a term which may extend to 10 years. It has been contended that this punishment doesn’t match the seriousness of the offence. In many cases such as Laxmi v. Union of India & Ors, Section 307 of Indian Penal Code is applied but the application of section 307 of I.P.C is not enough as mens rea is extremely difficult to prove and grant of bail is easy in cases involving section 307.
It is consequently essential to inspect and analyze the different provisions of the Indian Penal Code to see whether the law as it exists in India is adequate to handle the cases of acid attacks.
Although a very small amount of data is available on cases of acid attack in India the studies conducted on the topic have reported an increasing trend in the incidents of offenses of acid attack in India. An aggregate of 57 cases with 65 victims was recorded in 2010, in 2012, the figure rose to 85 cases with 101 victims. Delhi, UP, Punjab, Haryana, and Bihar together accounted for 53% of all recorded incidents. Delhi (31) and UP (39) accounted for 27% of all victims in India between 2010 and 2012. This figure doesn’t include the cases of acid attack where the victims didn’t report the incident to the authorities under the fear of further violence or social stigma. Hydrochloric acid and Sulphuric acid were used in most of these cases with the victims mostly being women under the age of 30. Such incidents mostly happen in the homes of the victims or in public places and injuries suffered range from permanent disfigurement to death. Death in the incidents of acid attack is often very slow and painful. In the event that the victim does survive they are maimed and scarred to life and are often confined to their homes.
Acid attack victims suffer from physical, psychological and social trauma, the physical impact of acid attacks is deep and permanent which often affects their psychological well being and hinders their social functionality. Corrosive substances such as acids burn the skin of the victims of such an attack often exposing or melting the bones of the affected area which mostly is the face of the victim. Victims of acid attacks often lose their eyesight as the result of corrosion caused by Hydrochloric or Sulphuric acid.
Lack of medical awareness regarding cases of acid attacks leads to another complication as the social stigma attached to cases of acid attacks often leads to the victims not getting proper treatment. There have been some incidents where substances such as Turmeric and Coconut Oil have been applied to the affected areas of the body of the victim or they have been wrapped in blankets such negligence and mishandling can cause irreparable damage to the victim and create medical complications.
Acid attacks cause several psychological issues such as depression, anxiety, insomnia, and nightmares. They feel the fear of another attack, further violence and are often afraid of facing the outside world. Victims suffer severe psychological and medical issues for years if not forever as the permanent nature of their disfigurement leaves them prone to infections and the loss of hearing and eyesight is often gradual.
Cases Relating to Acid Attack in India
Before 2016 India didn’t have a separate law overseeing the crime of acid attack, cases were filed under different sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) especially the sections dealing with hurt, grievous hurt, grievous hurt by corrosive substances and attempt to murder and murder, but the long term effects of an acid attack, despite the victim surviving, are unmistakable and scar the victim; who is typically a woman for a considerable period both physically and emotionally.
In the case of Ravinder Singh Versus State of Harayana under the Hon’ble Supreme Court in 1975, acid was poured on a woman by her husband for declining to divorce him. The accused was engaged in an illicit affair. Because of the attack, the victim endured various burns all over her body, resulting in her death. The accused was charged and convicted under Section 302 of the IPC. Nonetheless, life imprisonment was not imposed although the act had resulted in the death of the victim.
In Devanand Versus The state a man poured acid on his estranged wife since she wouldn’t cohabit with him. The wife endured perpetual deformation and loss of sight from one eye. The accused was convicted under Section 307 of the Indian Penal Code and was penalized with imprisonment for 7 years.
In Srimanthula Chinna Sathaiah & Anr. Vs. State of A.P animosity arose between two men. The accused was suspicious that the other person had falsely implicated him in a case. He also suspected that his wife was engaged in an illicit affair with the victim’s older son. As a form of vengeance, the accused poured acid on the victim, which resulted in severe acid burns on the face and body. The accused was charged under Section 302 and 34 of the IPC and was granted rigorous imprisonment for life.
Numerous cases where the death of the victim doesn’t occur get registered under the sections related to hurt and grievous hurt and not attempt to murder as no aim of killing or knowledge that the offence is probably going to cause death is ascribed to the accused.
In the case of Awadhesh Roy versus State of Jharkhand under the Jharkhand High Court the victim was standing with her friend at a Bus Stop in Dhanbad. The Appellant came and poured acid over her head and face. The appellant had a photo of the victim and was blackmailing her however she did not consent to his requests. The victim endured burn injuries over the left half of her face, her eye, neck, and chest and needed to be hospitalized. A case was filed under Sections 324, 326, 307 IPC. The police investigated the case and filed a charge sheet against the appellant under the previously mentioned sections. The learned second Extra Sessions Judge, Dhanbad held the appellant guilty under Area 324 IPC and convicted and sentenced him to three years of rigorous imprisonment. The appellant’s conviction was maintained by the Hon’ble High Court. No compensation at all was granted to the victim. In this case, the court appears to have been guided by the idea of injuries which in the court’s opinion didn’t amount to grievous hurt.
In the case of State of Karnataka by Jalahalli Police Station versus Joseph Rodrigues S/o V.Z. Rodrigues, the accused threw acid on a young girl, Hasina, for rejecting his offer of employment. This profoundly scarred her physical appearance changed the colour and appearance of her face and left her visually impaired. The accused was convicted under Section 307 of IPC and sentenced to imprisonment for life. A compensation of Rs. 2,00,000/ – notwithstanding the Trial Court fine of Rs 3,00,000 was to be paid by the accused to Hasina’s parents.
This was a landmark judgment as it was the first time that compensation which was a significant amount was given to the victim to meet the medical expenses including that of plastic surgeries, Yet, no compensation was granted for the after-effects of the assault, for example, loss of employment and so forth.
In the case of State(Delhi Administration) Versus Mewa Singh, the accused threw acid on the victim’s face. The acid splashed on her face and created some redness (erythema) on the skin over a section of her face including her upper eye-lids. There was no deterioration, of the skin or other deformation. The accused was convicted for causing hurt under Section 323 of the IPC and a pitiful fine of Rs. 300 alongside 15 days imprisonment was awarded.
Statutes regarding acid attacks in other countries
In Bangladesh, acid attacks are defined and punished under the Acid Offences Prevention Act 2002. Section 4 of the act defines the punishment for killing a person using acid or similar corrosive substances. The punishment for killing a person using acid or other corrosive substances will be punished with death or life imprisonment along with a fine not exceeding one lakh taka.
Section 5 of the act defines the punishment for bodily hurt using acids and similar corrosive substances.
If as a result of an acid attack the victim’s sight or ear is harmed completely or partially or face or breasts or sexual organ is deformed or harmed, the perpetrator will be sentenced to, death or rigorous imprisonment for life and furthermore a fine not exceeding One Lac Taka.
If as a result of an acid attack any member or joint of the victim’s body is deformed or harmed in any part thereof, he will be punished with, imprisonment which may extend to 14 years but shall not be less than 7 years of rigorous imprisonment.
Section 6 of the act deals with the instances where acid was thrown or attempted to be thrown on the victim. The section states that “Whosoever throws or tries to pour acid on some other person regardless of whether such an act causes no harm or damage to that other individual whether physically, mentally or in some other manner, he will be punished with, imprisonment of either description which may extend to 7 years but not less than 3 years of rigorous imprisonment additionally with a fine not surpassing Fifty Thousand Taka.”
From 2002 the law in Bangladesh laid down very strict measures to deal with the increasing trend in acid attacks in their country. The time frame for investigation was fixed to 30 days and only two extensions of 15 days could be granted. If the investigation couldn’t be completed in 60 days the investigating officer of the case is changed and action is taken against the previous investigating officer. The new officer has 15 days to complete the investigation.
After the investigation, the courts are required to obtain a conviction within 90 days from the end of the investigation. All cases of acid attack are nonbailable, non-compoundable and cognizable in nature. Often Acid attack tribunals are set up for the trial of acid attack cases. These tribunals are headed by district or sessions judges. It is ensured that all members of the tribunal are properly sensitized to acid attack cases.
This is in contrast to the laws in Cambodia which are very lax and vague in regard to cases of acid attacks. Acid attacks aren’t explicitly dealt with in Cambodian criminal law. Culprits can be charged with battery with damage, which carries a sentence of imprisonment up to 10 years.
Present legal scenario
Till recently there was no particular law in India to handle the instances of acid attack. Section 326 of the Indian Penal Code which deals with deliberately Causing Grievous Hurt by Dangerous Weapons or Means was not all that viable in dealing with this type of crime since it does exclude acid attack. The eighteenth law commission of India chaired by Justice A.R. Lakshmanan then proposed another section 326A and 326B in the India Penal Code and section 114B in the Indian Evidence Act.
The extent of the meaning of section 326 is exceptionally restricted yet it doesn’t deal with the issue of acid attack in light of the fact that:
• It doesn’t cover the different sorts of injuries sustained in an acid attack.
• The section doesn’t cover the act of arranging an acid attack.
• The section likewise doesn’t determine who the fine ought to be granted to.
• The section doesn’t punish the intentional act of throwing of acid if no injuries happen.
Further in instances of acid attack a presumption is included in the Indian Evidence Act as Section 114B. The proposed Section 114B of the Indian Evidence Act will peruse as under:
Presumption as to acid attack–If an individual has tossed acid on, or poured acid on, someone else the court will presume that such a crime has been committed with the expectation of causing, or with the knowledge that such an act is probably going to cause such hurt or damage as is referenced in Section 326 A of the Indian Penal Code. This section was incorporated to give a wide point of view to acid attack. Acid Attack was as of late presented as a separate offence under the Indian Penal Code through criminal (amendment) Act, 2013.
As indicated by Section 326A of Indian Penal Code “Acid” incorporates any substance which has an acidic or corrosive character or burning nature that is capable of causing substantial damage prompting scars or distortion or temporary or permanent disability. The long term outcomes of these assaults may include partial or total blindness, permanent scarring of face and body, along with extensive social, psychological, and financial challenges. Section 326A and Section 326B of Indian Penal Code includes punishment which is given to an accused which read as under:
Section 326A lays down the punishment for Vitriolage or acid throwing. The minimum punishment ascribed in the section is 10 years imprisonment which may extend up to life imprisonment with fine.
Section 326B lays down the punishment for an attempted acid attack in which the minimum sentence is imprisonment of 5 years which can extend to 7 years imprisonment with fine.
Other measures such as a ban on the commercial sale of concentrated acids have also been implemented along with the requirement of permits and IDs in order to purchase acids in order to make acids less accessible to perpetrators of acid attacks in order to lessen the frequency of such crimes.
An acid attack has lasting consequences on the life of the victim who faces perpetual torture, permanent harm, and different issues for a long time. they become too traumatized and humiliated to leave their home and do simple tasks not to mention get married, have children, get employed, get an education, and so on. Regardless of whether they are willing to seek after a normal life, there is no assurance that society itself will regard them as normal human beings given their appearance and handicaps after an attack. They will most likely be unable to work or have the option to get a new line of work, and thus suffer throughout their life. the perpetrators of acid attacks should be given the harshest of punishments with the goal that the punishment goes about as a deterrent for the general public, punishments which are exemplary in nature ought to be imposed in instances of acid attack.
The punishment for acid attacks and their definition has been revised and clarified in recent years which increased the severity of the punishment for those convicted of acid attack. This has led to the elimination of many complications related to incidents of acid attacks which used to arise out of the usage of laws related to grievous hurt this has also led to the severity of punishment increasing along with chances of bail getting slimmer thus protecting the victims of acid attacks from further violence. But the imposition of stricter laws by itself isn’t going to solve the issue of acid attacks in the country where many of the incidents of acid attacks go unreported. More awareness needs to be spread in the society making people aware of the magnitude of the issue along with providing prompt and proper medical care in order to avoid the further medical complications which are created due to the mishandling of acid attack victims.
Above all the society needs to be sensitized to the nature and gravity of these crimes and the impact of acid attacks on the lives of the victims in order to eliminate the hardships of social rejection faced by the victims which in turn will help in the rehabilitation of the victims of such crimes and help them lead a normal life.
Being Reshma by Reshma qureshi
226th Law Commission Report
International Framework on Acid attacks: A study by MinakshiGoswami
Acid Violence in South Asia: A Structural Analysis toward Transformative Justice by Francis Kuriakose