BURNING IN SILENCE...
When Preeti Rathi got off the train at Bandra Terminus station in Mumbai on May 2, she was looking forward to a new life in the city, where a job as a nurse awaited her. But the life of the 23-year-old from Delhi changed dramatically in a matter of seconds when an unidentified man doused her face with acid.
“I was walking alongside when a man came from behind and tapped Preeti on the shoulder,” Amar Singh Rathi, the victim’s father, said in a phone interview on Tuesday. “When she turned, he threw acid on her.”
After battling for her life for nearly a month, Ms. Rathi succumbed to her burns and injuries on Saturday at a local hospital.
Her family has accused the local authorities of bungling the investigation. The police have arrested two men, but one was released after he proved he was somewhere else at the time of the attack. Ms. Preeti’s father has dismissed the other suspect as a scapegoat. “The police have made these arrests to make a fool of the public and media and lead them astray,” he said.
Maharashtra’s home minister, R.R. Patil, met with Ms. Rathi’s parents on Sunday and assured them that the case would be transferred to the Central Bureau of Investigation, the top investigative agency in the country.
Only a few months ago, this kind of assault, which is common in the Indian subcontinent, wouldn’t have merited the attention from a home minister. It was only in February, after the Delhi gang rape generated outrage over the issue of violence against women, that Parliament passed a bill that created a separate criminal code for acid attacks. Before this, such attacks were prosecuted as a generic crime that caused physical injury or death.
Acid attacks are almost always “tied to gender inequality and discrimination,” noted a 2011 study sponsored by the Avon Foundation for Women. The study also noted that attackers prefer to use hydrochloric, sulfuric and nitric acids because they rapidly burn through flesh and bone: “Perpetrators often intend to destroy what society considers to be one of the most valuable traits of a woman — her beauty.”
Because acid attacks were only recently classified as a specific crime, the Indian government does not keep track of the number of cases. However, the Avon Foundation study found that the number of assaults reported in the media rose from 2002 to 2010.
Acid Survivors Foundation reports from India and Pakistan have also recorded an increasing number of acid attacks in both countries, and both countries have underscored the gravity of the problem by passing legislation to strengthen penalties for these attacks.
In India, the new law that recognizes acid attacks as a separate crime imposes a minimum penalty of 10 years in prison, with a maximum of life imprisonment, and a fine of up to 1 million rupees ($18,000). In Pakistan, the Parliament in 2011 made amendments to existing laws that criminalized such attacks, stipulating a minimum sentence of 14 years in prison, a maximum sentence of life imprisonment and fines up to 1 million Pakistani rupees ($10,200).
The suicide of an acid attack victim in Pakistan last year galvanized public opinion, which put pressure on the government to introduce even stronger laws. A bill titled “Acid Throwing and Burn Crime Bill 2012” was introduced in the Parliament in Pakistan, which sought “to redress the acid throwing and burn crimes which are increasing year by year.” However, the bill is still pending in Parliament.
There is some evidence from Bangladesh that stricter laws can help reduce the number of acid attacks. Bangladesh passed laws against acid violence as early as 2002 and took steps to regulate the availability of the acids commonly used in such attacks. The Avon Foundation study found that Bangladesh has seen a decline in the number of reported acid attacks from 2000 to 2009.
The strengthening of laws in India might help victims get justice; however, the laws do not necessarily serve as a deterrent. The easy availability of the acids used in these attacks is part of the problem, the study said. For example, a liter of hydrochloric acid costs between 16 to 25 rupees in India.
For now, the father of Ms. Rathi said he wasn’t concerned about current or future legislation to prevent attacks like the kind that killed his daughter. “We don’t want anything else but that the culprits be caught,” he said.
Courtesy: malavika vyawahare