THE BIG STORY
It’s a familiar tale. Man says he loves woman. She turns him down. In retaliation, he attacks her with acid, inflicting unimaginable pain and leaving her scarred for life.
This horrific storyline played out twice in nine days in the National Capital Region. In the first incident on November 3, a 23-year-old married woman turned down the advances of her neighbour, Montu who, as revenge, tied up the woman and threw acid on her. He then fled to his native Buxar, in Bihar from where he was arrested three days later.
The woman suffered 45% burns on her face and upper torso, and has reportedly lost vision in both her eyes.
Less than 10 days later, in a separate incident on November 12, a 21-year-old woman working in an e-commerce firm turned down the marriage proposal of her cousin, Ravinder Singh. He retaliated by attacking her with acid. She too has reportedly lost her vision.
The National Crime Records Bureau reported 228 acid attacks in 2018, 249 in 2019, and 182 in 2020–a decline caused by the pandemic and the lockdowns that followed. In 2013, the home ministry estimated 500 acid attacks over the previous four years.
India, along with Bangladesh and Cambodia, has one of the world’s highest incidences of acid violence, found a 2011 report by Cornell University. “Acid attack perpetrators do not usually intend to kill their victims, but to cause long-lasting physical damage and emotional trauma,” the report noted.
Victims of acid attacks are almost always young women from socio-economic marginalised communities who have turned down men.
When hydrochloric, sulphuric and other acids, commonly used to clean toilets or clear clogged sewage lines, come into contact with human skin, it causes it to melt and can even damage the underlying tissue, muscle, bone and internal organs. It causes permanent disfigurement and disability, leaving victims with a lifetime of physical and mental suffering and economic consequences.
Acid violence and the law
In 2009, the Law Commission recommended that acid attacks should be treated as separate offences with compensation spelt out for victims. In 2013, the Justice JS Verma Commission too asked for the offence to be treated in a separate category rather than under the umbrella section on causing grievous harm.
In 2006, Laxmi, the victim of an acid attack who uses only one name, filed a petition in the Supreme Court. Seven years later, the court finally ruled and recommended a raft of measures, from the strict regulation of the sale of acid–no sale without ID proof and a valid reason for purchase, shops to maintain a register of all sales — to guidelines on medical care and treatment as well as financial compensation to victims.
For a while, sales were strictly regulated, says Aparna Bhat, Laxmi’s lawyer. But then things became lax again with acid being sold freely in the market.
“As with most public interest litigations, there is no regular monitoring of the Supreme Court order,” says Bhat. Laxmi’s story generated a fair amount of attention and Deepika Padukone even starred in a movie, Chhapaak. For a while, acid violence was in the news. Then everyone forgot and moved on.
Falguni Nayar became the second Indian self-made billionaire (after Biocon founder Kiran Majumdar Shaw) when the parent company of the cosmetics e-tailer she founded in April 2012 made a blockbuster debut on the stock exchange. The Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad graduate and former managing director of Kotak Mahindra Capital Company was quoted saying: “I hate being counted as a woman entrepreneur. We need to break stereotypes including gender stereotypes.”
Not all superwomen wear capes:
Inspector E Rajeshwari of T.P. Chatram police station, Chennai, was part of the investigations that booked more than a dozen men who raped a hearing-impaired woman in Chennai in 2018. In August this year, she cracked a case of child trafficking and penetrative sexual assault while raiding a shopkeeper for illegally selling ganja. Her most recent rescue came on November 10 when she rescued an unconscious man during the Chennai flooding by hoisting him on her shoulders.
Dignity dance: While receiving a Padma Shri from President Ram Nath Kovind, the striking Manjamma Jogati, a transgender folk dancer, made a gesture that many said is a traditional blessing and won hearts and the internet. In interviews with TV channels, she said she had been abandoned by her own family when she was 15 and appealed to parents to support their transgender children.
Watch: Transgender folk dancer Manjamma Jogati wins Padma Shri award
STORIES YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED
Arrest for online rape threat: Software engineer from Hyderabad, Ramnagesh Srinivas Akubathini has been arrested for making online rape threats to Indian captain Virat Kohli’s nine-month-old baby girl with actor Anushka Sharma, reports Sharangee Dutta. The threats were made after Kohli stood up to Twitter trolls in defence of his teammate Mohammad Shami following India’s defeat to Pakistan in the T20 World Cup match. The 23-year-old IIT-Hyderabad graduate is reported to have had plans to pursue higher studies in the US. Police said he has a history of online trolling using multiple identities.
Justice served: Gayatri Prajapati, a former minister in the Akhilesh Yadav government, and two associates have been sentenced to life imprisonment for gang-raping a Chitrakoot-based woman at his official residence in Lucknow. The complaint was lodged in 2017 and Uttar Pradesh police finally arrested Prajapati after receiving orders to do so from the Supreme Court. Read Pawan Dixit’s account of how events unfolded.
Wear what you want: Teachers in Kerala have the right to wear what they want, the state’s higher education minister R Bindu said after a college asked a lecturer to not wear salwar-kameez to class. The higher education department issued a circular after teachers complained that several institutions in the state practiced such policing. More here.
…Or don’t: No brides with open hair or groom with beards, no cake or champagne at weddings, ruled the Kodava Samaj in Kodagu district, 225 km from Bengaluru. Yet another instance of the culture custodians imposing restrictions in the name of retaining ‘purity’?
Beating a retreat: After being threatened with contempt proceedings by the Supreme Court, the Army beat a hasty retreat on its decision to deny permanent commission to 72 female short service commission officers and agreed to grant permanent commission to all officers who had qualified on merit, reports Abraham Thomas.
Women in the World
Anger in Poland: The death of a 30-year-old woman who died of sepsis 22 weeks into her pregnancy has sparked massive protests in Poland with vigils and marches in Warsaw as well as smaller cities including Gdansk and Pszczyna, the town where the woman died.
The protests come a year after the country’s constitutional court imposed a near-total ban on abortion. As a result, the woman’s family alleged, doctors refused to perform an abortion after the woman’s waters broke, waiting instead for the foetus which was born with severe abnormalities to die naturally. The delay resulted in sepsis and the woman’s death.
Protestors carried banners reading “Not one woman more” and “My Body, My Choice”. The health ministry issued a clarification to doctors that abortions are legal, in some cases.
Advocate for paid family leave: Meghan, the wife of Prince Harry, has emerged as an advocate for paid family leave with her phone calls to members of the US Congress for their support. The United States is one of the few remaining countries that still does not legally mandate paid maternity leave.
Daughter’s run: Sara Duterte, the eldest daughter of Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte will run for vice-president in next year’s election. Sara will be the running mate for Ferdinand Marcos Jr, son of the late dictator, who is running as president.
That’s it for this week. If you have a tip or information on gender-related developments that you would like to share write to me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Namita Bhandare writes and reports on gender
The views expressed are personal
Marika Gabriel contributed to the making of this page