Acid attacks continue to be a major threat for women in Indian society, with survivors often struggling to make ends meet. Now, new government legislation aims to turn things around by officially giving acid attack survivors recognition as physically disabled and providing opportunities through reservation.
In a move that earns the government a lot of credit points, acid attack victims will now find official recognition under the Disability Act.
The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act was passed by both Houses of Parliament in December, 2016 and is now in force. It was a reworking of the original 1995 act, raising the number of disabilities from 7 to 19, with acid attack victims now being recognized as physically disabled. This is a big relief to the victims as, under it, they are now entitled to special provisions for education and occupation. They will now enjoy 3 % reservation for jobs alongside sufferers of other disabilities earlier recognized.
Acid attacks are primarily directed towards women, who make up 80 % of the victims. The main causes behind such an act include family disputes, refusal to proposals, land or monetary disputes, domestic violence, and suspicion of infidelity.
The victims often suffer disfigurement, scarring, blindness, and breathing difficulties.
The inclusion of acid attack victims in the list will pave the way for employment opportunities for such individuals, some of whom have taken state governments to court to press for enhanced compensation. The government has justified the inclusion saying that acid attack victims face social stigma, which hinders them from full and effective participation in society.
The move is in line with a December 2015 Supreme Court verdict which directed state governments to include acid attack victims in their disability lists. It had also ordered observance of stricter measures to stop the sale of such harmful acids, after continuous petitions by victims.
“Indian society still treats women severely burned and maimed in acid attacks as the fringe,” the court had observed.
Given the alarming rise in acid attacks, despite increasing penalty and limiting sale of acid, the move was long overdue. Acid Survivors Foundation of India (ASFI) officially recorded 249 attacks in 2015, an 11 % increase from the previous year.
However, this number is a gross underestimate, as most of these cases go unreported.
In 2015, Uttar Pradesh topped the list of number of acid attacks. 24 % of the country’s attacks occurred in the state. In order to check this, the state CM, Yogi Adityanath, ordered acid traders to submit detailed stock reports. Failure to comply would attract severe repercussions.
Some lauded and promoted the move, like the Women’s Development Minister Maneka Gandhi on Twitter. However, some human rights lawyers and activists are still sceptical as to its observance. Megha Mishra, the North India manager at ASFI, said, “There is a skills gap. Most acid attack victims lack education and have low computer literacy. The process of applying is not even clear. The right intervention would be to stop the activity from happening in the first place.”
Yet, one can’t refute that this was a long overdue move. These victims often find themselves helpless after such incidents, with a huge bill for medical treatments. Even after that, they face added misery due to mistreatment and loss of opportunities due to discrimination.
They find their life suddenly upturned, and are in dire need of help from one and all.
Many have tried to undertake this endeavour. Even ordinary people can help alleviate their suffering by showing solidarity and understanding towards them. Many lawyers in India also come to their aid, offering free legal services and advice to them. It is a conscious effort every one of us needs to make to build a better, safer society.