Acid is still available to anyone who cares to procure it. This is the message we got from the attack on a woman in the Capital two days ago by two motorcycle-borne thugs. CCTV cameras caught the chilling footage: The attack and the usual indifference of the public but for one good Samaritan. Union home minister Rajnath Singh on Wednesday approved measures to crack down on acid attackers and control open sale of acid. The government also says that it will make acid attacks a heinous crime.
These words are, however, cold comfort to women who never know where the attack may come from next. The truth is that little has been done to ensure that acid remains out of the reach of people, unless they have the requisite permits for it and reasons for its use. The second problem in most metros and towns is the proliferation of unregulated industrial units, many of which use acids for their operations. This means that anyone who wants to can procure the deadly material. According to the home ministry, 400 cases of acid attacks are reported every month.
Acid attacks are a particularly ghastly subcontinental method of ‘punishing’ women usually by a vengeful person. The problem is that the nature of the injuries is life-long, painful in the extreme and the deformities socially stigmatising for the victim. And for the man, possibly the cheapest way of exacting a terrible revenge.
Every time such an attack takes place, there is the usual outcry about women’s safety. But the focus must move to prevention, not something that cannot be done unless strict penalties are handed out against anyone selling acid. The first thing the authorities could do is to undertake a check on the industrial units functioning in cities and towns.
The laws prescribe the strictest of punishment for a plethora of crimes against women.
This can happen only if the culprits are found, which is often not the case. We simply have to clean our cities and towns of tools like acid that can harm women. Instead, after they are harmed, they are often left to their devices with no funds, no medical help or societal support. No society can be considered civilised if it does not act to prevent, at least minimise, maiming its women in such a brutal manner.
A campaign against this practice should be started both by politicians and civil society involving men as much as possible. But, while that goes on, the very least the authorities can do is to ensure that acid does not reach the hands of thugs. It corrodes all our values and morality as a society.