Five months ago, on a hot July afternoon, Laxmi, a 22-year-old acid attack victim from Delhi, sat inside the Supreme Court, feverishly hoping that the Bench would rule favourably on her PIL that demanded stringent guidelines on the sale of acid and other corrosive substances and payment of compensation by the State and the perpetrator to injured women. Outside, Laxmi’s “friends” — acid attack victims from different parts of the country — waited anxiously even as they gave media interviews on their plight. For the first time since they were attacked, the women had left their faces — or whatever remains of them — uncovered, signalling a new-found strength to fight for their cases — and the cause. The Bench did not disappoint them.
Five months later, on Tuesday, Laxmi and her friends were again at the court, this time waiting to hear what the states and the Union Territories (UTs) have done to curb the sale of acid and provide compensation to victims. As they probably expected, only one of the seven UTs (Pondicherry) and 28 states has complied with the SC directives. Concerned at the non-compliance, the Bench re-issued its directions and ordered state chief secretaries and administrators of UTs to comply with its order by March 31, 2014. It also directed the Haryana government to place its scheme before the SC under which the state bears the full treatment costs for acid attack victims.
By dragging their feet endlessly on the implementation of the SC’s July guidelines, the states and the UTs are putting lives at risk. Take for example the recent attacks on two teenagers in Delhi. Thanks to a lax government that still allows people to buy acid without much difficulty, a man (Manoj) threw acid on Parvati (18) and her friend Gayatri (16) because Parvati had refused to marry him. Parvati suffered 50% and Gayatri 20% burn injuries. Stop Acid Attacks (SAA), an organisation that works with acid attack survivors, has documented at least 15 such cases that have happened after the July 18 order. None of the survivors have got any compensation. Victims and activists also say that the `3 lakh compensation that the SC had ordered for victims cannot cover their medical costs; on an average, they need about `25-30 lakh for several corrective surgeries. The SAA says even free treatment for survivors, as Haryana has announced, is not free because patients are often asked to buy medicines and food from outside in government hospitals. Then there is the issue of employment since very few would give a job to people who are disfigured.
There is another important reason why the governments must implement the SC guidelines without further delay: the corrosive liquid is being used by many to settle personal scores. In an incident that mirrors the acid attack on the Bolshoi Ballet’s artistic director, Sergei Filin, by his colleague and two others, recently in Kanpur, a 35-year-old man succumbed to burn injuries after he was attacked by his co-workers with acid.