Sunday, May 3, 2015

Understanding Acid Attacks in India through data

Even though we know the brutal reality of Acid Attacks in india and world over, we do not have a proper statistics available for the same. Government has failed in regulating sale of Acids in retail shops. The compensation of Rs 3 lakh (Rs 0.3 million) is too less an amount for an Acid Attack survivor to meet the medical expenses. And not everybody gets this amount as well! All this has led to a sad situation where the survivors of the acid attack find it very difficult to lead a dignified life.

The recent supreme court ruling, dated April 10, 2015, by a Social Justice bench of the court has made it mandatory for private and government hospitals to provide full and free medical treatment to acid attack victims. The term treatment has been elaborated to reconstructive surgeries, medicines, bed, rehabilitation and aftercare. The verdict was delivered in the Laxmi Vs Union of India PIL. The verdict is in addition to earlier verdicts by the supreme court aiming to provide rehabilitation, justice and relief to the survivors and victims of the brutal attacks.

The supreme court verdict was based on the fact that last year there were 309 cases of Acid Attacks across the country- making it almost one attack being reported everyday! Apart from this data, we essentially do not have any well researched paper on acid attacks in india. We have not come across any specific plan by the government to conduct a research around acid attacks. The findings can be crucial in tackling the issue in a more scientific manner. We need to have details such as which is the age group which is being attacked more, reasons behind the attacks, are men also victim to the attacks, and much more.

Stop Acid Attacks, a campaign which is at the forefront for the rights of the survivors of the acid attacks has maintained its own data collected by the various volunteers based on the various media reports and through the strong network of volunteers and supporters across the nation.

The findings are surprising! This article shall focus on the key findings gathered by the Stop Acid Attack campaign.

Not specific to women:

I have been in close coordination with the volunteers of Stop Acid Attacks. In one of the conversation, Alok Dixit, founder of the campaign, told me, “It is well considered that Acid Attacks are limited only to women, but we have seen in at least 30% cases men have been attacked. The reasons are of course different.”

This one finding changes our understanding of the attacks. We have been seeing acid attacks as a problem specific to women only. But men too have been targeted! The reasons have varied from political rivalry to personal enmity.

It is also considered that women are attacked when they refuse advances of men. Though it is the most common reason, but in few cases we have seen father attacking daughter and husband attacking wife. There have been cases when another woman has attacked a woman. All of these cases help us in understanding that acid is essentially becoming a new age cheaper weapon, and there is no proper regulation on it!

Most attacks are taking place in Uttar Pradesh:

As per the findings, most of the cases- almost 25%, have taken place in Uttar Pradesh. It is followed by Delhi with 8.4% and Bihar with 8%.

This immediately requires attention of the Uttar Pradesh government. The ruling Samajwadi Party needs to look into the matter at the earliest. It is sad that the state, which has the largest manpower in the country, is known for all the wrong reasons. The state needs to work extensively in establishing itself as a safe haven for women and men. One can counter the argument with high population and density of the state. But if 25% of the cases are reported from one particular state then we really need to investigate the reasons behind it. The socio-economic situation needs to be studied in light of these statistics. It can also be figured out by the state government if there is need of special programmes to sensitive the people in the state. Few months back, Haryana government launched a special ‘Beti Bachao campaign’ (Save Girl Child campaign) in wake of the disturbing sex ratio in the state. Uttar Pradesh needs to set example for other states in case of Acid Attacks in the country.

The phenomenon largely present in North India:

The North-Eastern and Southern states, as per the primary data collected by Stop Acid Attacks campaigns, have recorded lesser attacks. There can be many reasons to this. The North-Eastern states are considered less patriarchal than the Northern states in India. Southern states have better literacy rate than north India. It is also true for North-Eastern states.

If this is true then, the attacks can be seen as related to patriarchy and literacy. Exceptions will prevail. Delhi certainly has high rate of literacy. Few cases recorded in Delhi have extremely educated male convicts- in one case a PhD scholar from IIT Delhi, where the male colleague attacked a fellow female PhD scholar.

There can be other side to it as well, which needs through research and follow up. We need to find out if all the cases are being reported from North-Eastern and Southern states. The data depends largely on media reports, volunteer report and through various other means by the campaign itself. It is not a government database. So we have reasons to believe that there can be more cases.

When compared with other countries:

The attacks when compared with other countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh and Cambodia- which have recorded similar higher rates of attack, the picture becomes a bit clear.

“Almost 30% men are attacked in India with Acid. In Bangladesh the percentage is also around 30%, where as almost in 50% cases men are attacked in Cambodia.” informs Alok Dixit. “One can cross check these facts by a simple google search.” he adds. It clearly breaks the myth that the attacks are limited to women. Also it gives us a clear picture of the situation in South Asian countries.

Despite having a high rate of acid attacks in India, we do not have specific treatment centres available. Only 4-5 cities in the country have expert doctors for the treatment. “It is important that the cities or region which face high number of attacks should have experts in the government hospitals. But we do not even have centres for treatment in places with high cases. There are no burn centres in many districts in Uttar Pradesh and elsewhere in India.” informs Alok, critically examining the situation in the country. “The situation is slightly better in other South Asian countries as far as I know. Also, countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh and Cambodia have laws to regulate the sale of Acids. We do not have specific law, apart from a Supreme Court guideline which has also not been followed up.” he continues.

Given the fact that there are large cases being reported from South Asian countries, there can be an initiative by the SAARC countries, and other similar countries in the region to form a cooperation group dedicated to upliftment of Acid Attack survivors and looking out for ways to eliminate the social evil of such attacks. As these attacks are result of a certain mindset, it is important to have a concrete step to tackle it.

Way ahead:

Acids have become a reality of our times. It is high time we recognise them as a new weapon, instead of seeing them in isolation. They must not be considered just a toilet cleaner, and government has to ensure it.

Indian government needs to launch a dedicated program, in collaboration with the civil society bodies working in the area, to understand and assist the situation. We cannot wait any longer- for each day a new person is attacked in this country. It is high time we see it as a serious threat to the social fabric of which this nation is built.

The article was first published in LokMarg on May 2, 2015. 

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