women under attack: why india is the fourth most dangerous place in the world for women
According to the Thomson Reuters Foundation survey, India is the 4th most dangerous place in the world for women to live in. From January 2002 to October 2010, 153 acid attack cases were reported in the Indian print media, while 174 judicial cases were reported for the year 2000. Of course these figures are believed to be an underestimation, as many cases go unreported. Hooligans, hiding their faces behind masks, mercilessly attack these disarmed women. For these unscrupulous men, it is just a momentary act of vengeance. High on testosterone and low on basic conscience, these ruthless men do not hesitate in carrying out such audacious acts of violence.
But for the victimised women, these few seconds decide their fate, which is either a life full of condemnation and social disgrace or a painful torturous death. The genesis of most of these crimes is unrequited love. Dowry disagreement is yet another issue. Laxmi had to pay a big price for spurning the advances of a man who was madly in love with her. Feeling hurt and disgraced, he decided to satiate his “punctured” male ego by disfiguring Laxmi’s face with corrosive acid. Laxmi was only 15 then. She was encouraged by her father’s employer, Shireen Jejeebhoy of the Population Council, to file a Public Interest Litigation (PIL), which in Indian law is a litigation meant for the protection of the public interest.
After a long battle, Laxmi finally succeeded in getting her assailant convicted for 10 years. She has undergone a number of reconstructive surgeries, all of which have been fully funded by Shireen Jejeebhoy. But others have not been as lucky as Laxmi.
Another such victim was abandoned by her husband and laid off from her job. Her perpetrator is still at large. She is desperately looking to be financially independent and currently lives with her brother and father. Preeti Rathi, another victim, sadly succumbed to her injuries. Her parents are still struggling to get the full compensation money, not to mention that her culprit is still on the run.
On 18 July 2013, India’s highest court, the Supreme Court, ordered the National and State governments to regate sale of acid by classifying it as “poison”. Measures were also taken to ensure that all sellers maintain a log of people who purchase acid, with the intent of purchase and full contact details clearly mentioned. Along with restricting easy access to acid, the Supreme Court has also increased the compensation money for the victim’s kin, from 100,000 to 300,000 Indian Rupees.
In the wake of the gruesome gang rape of a young woman on a moving bus in New Delhi, Criminal Law Amendment Bill 2013 was passed on 19 March 2013. This bill brought about sweeping reformative changes to laws related to sexual offenses, with acid attacks coming under its ambit. Under the new law, acid attack calls for a minimum of 10 years of imprisonment.
But the rehabilitation of victims still remains a pressing issue. The current compensation money is still not enough to cover the medical and legal expenses. The legal battle is also very tardy, with speedy justice impeded by red tape and corruption.
The need of the hour, however, is to take preventive measures to avoid the occurrence of such incidents in the future. But sometimes I wonder what these feasible measures could possibly be. The India that I know of is inherently misogynistic and patriarchal. This comes across very evidently through movies, music and general attitudes. The concept of men asserting their masculinity over women is frightfully normalised in our society. Thus, a massive overhaul of the social fabric is required from a gendered perspective. We are born with a conscience, which is polished and shaped through the process of socialisation in the formative years of our life. Correct upbringing and good education is the only way to tame the egos and refine the attitudes of this uncouth lot towards women. I also feel that the retail sale of acid should be completely banned.
Acid attack victims are left psychologically and physically crippled, which renders them dependent on their families or spouses. They find it painstakingly hard to get work due to the physical handicap and social stigma. Single victims thus have their marriage prospects marred for life, while the married ones end up being abandoned by their husbands.
Laxmi was lucky to have had the support of Shireen Jejeebhoy. I truly appreciate Shireen’s humanitarian spirit and urge everyone to treat such acid attack victims with respect and care, instead of ostracising them and treating them as social outcasts.
A version of this piece first appeared on Mallika’s blog.
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