Burning issue

Acid attack survivors must get quick justice

Burning issue

Meghna Gulzar’s Chhapaak, the story of a gritty acid attack survivor rebuilding her life — deftly portrayed by Deepika Padukone who gets into the (scarred) skin of the character — is a grim reminder of our inability to eradicate this criminal scourge. The National Crime Records Bureau report released recently puts the number of acid assault incidents in 2018 at 228, with two out of every three victims being women. Notably, this is just a marginal fall from the year earlier when 244 people suffered burns from the corrosive liquid splashed on them deliberately. Aggravating the concern is the abysmally low rate of conviction: only 28 criminals were held guilty of acid attacks. Long-drawn legal trials lend a sense of impunity to the perpetrators. In abject unfairness, the accused seem to roam freely in society or abscond even as the victims are condemned to a lifetime of costly treatments and surgeries and reinventing themselves. Little surprise that few are brave enough to face the world with their heads held high even though they are but victims who deserve care and cure.

Those guilty of this heinous crime are not getting away because of lack of strong legislation. It is due to the failure of proper implementation of the rules. In the wake of the public outrage against the Nirbhaya gangrape, the Supreme Court in 2013 passed guidelines on acid sale curbs and compensation for the victims’ rehabilitation. Section 326 A of the Indian Penal Code prescribes a minimum punishment of 10 years’ imprisonment. But as acid continues to be easily available for use as a weapon on targets — by jilted suitors wanting to ravage women or disputing parties taking revenge on rivals — it exposes the laxity in monitoring the sale.

By highlighting the violent assault and the uphill struggle faced by the brave survivor, the film spreads awareness about the victims’ rights and remedies available to them. It should also rouse society into rejecting the patriarchal mindset of treating women as objects that leads to such heinous crimes. And, importantly, to refuse to be accepting of these crimes.

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