#India- #Acid attacks: the warped face of love #Vaw


Illustration: Rishabh Arora

It was probably just another day for techie J Vinodini as she walked home in Karaikal in South India at 10.30 pm on November 14 with a friend. Seconds later, life as she knew it would change irrevocably. A crazed stalker, a construction worker she had turned down and who had been stalking her since, accosted her and flung acid into her face.

She lies in hospital, with 40 percent burns, “severe burns to the head, chest, hands and stomach,” according to the news report. Apart from the disfigurement, she has also lost vision in both eyes. Numerous surgeries will be needed to reconstruct her face to some semblance of what it was before the attack. When acid hits the skin, the initial sensation is that of icy coldness. An instant later, the burning begins as it eats through skin, cartilage, hair, and even bone, depending on the concentration. Within seconds, the acid can burn and destroy body tissues on contact. Skin, hair, cartilage and bones dissolve, the nose becomes a hole, the vapours burn the respiratory and the digestive tracts, fingers get fused together, gaping holes can remain where eyes once were and the ears get damaged. The lungs can fill up with fluid which can often be fatal.

If a victim survives, she spends a lifetime undergoing reconstructive surgeries, being a social recluse with loss of vision and also, because of her appearance, loss of a normal life with a family and a job. I say ‘she’ because a majority of acid attack victims are women. The incidents seem to be on the increase. In Mumbai, my city, in January this year, IT firm employee Aarti Thakur was attacked by a person, hired by her spurned lover, who flung acid at her in public at the Goregaon railway station, burning her face, chest and arms. Shockingly, this was not the first time she had been attacked. Her face had been slashed by attackers on two previous incidents.

In early November this year, filmmaker Jerrit John went to physiotherapist Aryanka Hosbetkar’s home and flung a chemical into her face in the presence of her friends and mother. It was not the first time he had attacked her either, according to newspaper reports. In a previous incident, he had caught her head and banged it against a wall. She had refused to file a complaint against him because she was terrified of his temper. Jerrit was finally apprehended in a lodge on the outskirts of Mumbai. He stated after being arrested, “I wanted to destroy her future.” What shocked everyone, was that this was “someone like us, someone I knew,” as a friend stated, in disbelief.

Someone like us; not someone from a socio-economic section distinct from us, the educated middle class, as the popular perception goes. Someone like us; someone we knew. Arti Shrivastav was attacked by the District Collector’s son, Abhinav Misra, in January 2000, when she was just 18. In 2009, Abhinav was sentenced to 10-year imprisonment with a Rs 5 lakh fine. In 2011, he was out on bail. He went on to do his MBA, got married and had a family. A district collector’s son: someone like us. A boy from a decent family with educated parents.

Shirin Juwaley, founder of the NGO Palash, was attacked by her own husband – someone like us. There isn’t a particular type of attacker but there is one kind of victim: a woman, a girl. More often than not, a girl who has rejected sexual advances, declarations of love, who refuses to get into a relationship with the perpetrator, who has turned down an offer of marriage. A woman who must be put in her place, a girl who would never be able to get married or lead a normal life because she had the temerity to reject the perpetrator.

Sonali Mukherjee, an acid attack victim from Jharkhand, recently brought the topic into the limelight when she demanded justice or be permitted to end her life. Her case was taken up by the media and reconstructive surgery was offered to her. She had been through as many as 22 surgeries in the nine years since the attack and this was the first of many surgeries she would now undergo at a multi specialty hospital in a bid to get a face as close to normal as possible. Not only did Sonali lose her face in the acid attack that happened when she was barely 17, she also lost her vision. Her crime? She rejected the sexual advances of the perpetrators.

Acid attacks are not just used as a weapon of revenge by obsessive or jilted lovers; they’re also, more horrifically, being used as social controls to make women adhere to a code of conduct decreed by the self declared custodians of our morals. In August this year, posters from an organisation called the Jharkhand Mukti Sangh warned college girls of acid attacks if they wore jeans and tops. Also in August, a pro-Al-Qaeda group in Kashmir pinned notices in mosques in Shopian district warning women that their faces would be disfigured with acid if they were seen unveiled in public.

Interestingly, for the first time ever, acid attacks have got a standalone provision under the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The proposal is that two sections — 326A (hurt by acid attack) and 326B (attempt to throw or administer acid) — be added to the IPC Section 326. This is a non-bailable offence. If this law is passed, the attacker could be jailed for anything between 10 years to life with a fine of Rs 10 lakhs under Section 326 A (with the fine being given to the victim) and from five to seven years imprisonment with a fine for imprisonment under Section 326B. Acid attacks had no separate law so far. The sale of acid, even more horrifically, is still unregulated, with no checks in place. Anyone intending to disfigure someone’s face can procure a bottle of acid from the local kirana store. Anyone who had committed an acid attack could get out on bail and lead a regular life.

There are no exact statistics available for the number of acid attacks annually in India, none that I could find despite extensive googling. All I found was this: “There is no official statistics for India, but a study conducted by Cornell University in January 2011 said there were 153 attacks reported in the media from 1999 to 2010.” These are women who are not even a statistic, women whose lives, dreams, hopes and aspirations have melted away with their flesh, who are condemned to live lives worse than death.

We could learn from Bangladesh which introduced the death penalty for acid attacks in 2002, along with strict laws controlling the storage, transport and sale of acids. And most importantly, we need to bring up our boys to realise that women are not commodities, to learn to accept rejection, to know that they have no right to disfigure a woman in a warped display of “if I can’t have her, no one else will” or to “teach her a lesson.” The only lesson here is that a young girl’s life can be ruined for as little as a few rupees and that ruin, is a blot on our collective conscience.

– Kiran Mnaral – (The views expressed in this column are the writer’s own)

 

Immediate Release-Monsanto to be criminally prosecuted in B.t. Brinjal Biopiracy Case


 Press Release : Bangalore : 24 May 2012

NBA confirms Monsanto/Mahyco and ors. to be criminally prosecuted in B.t. Brinjal Biopiracy Case

In its first official confirmation, National Biodiversity Authority (NBA, India’s independent regulator on all matters pertaining to biodiversity protection, conservation and use) has stated that “it is proceeding with lodging of complaint against the alleged violators” of Biological Diversity Act on grounds of biopiracy in promoting B.t. Brinjal, India’s first transgenic GMO food. This information was provided to Environment Support Group (ESG) in response to a Right to Information query, and a copy is enclosed. As per Indian law, the filing of the complaint against this serious environmental crime assumes launching of criminal prosecution against the violators. India has already enforced a moratorium on the commercial release of B.t. Brinjal on various scientific, legal, health and community concerns.

 

The undersigned on behalf of Environment Support Group had filed a complaint in February 2010 accusing the world’s largest agritech company Monsanto along with its Indian partner Mahyco, Sathguru Consultants (representing USAID and Cornell University) and various public funded agriculture institutions such as University of Agriculture Sciences (Dharwar, Karnataka), Tamilnadu Agricultural University (Coimbatore) and Indian Institute of Vegetable Research (Uttar Pradesh), of accessing over 16 varieties of brinjal endemic to India in comprehensive violation of the Biological Diversity Act while promoting the commercial release of transgenic B.t. Brinjal through 2005-2010. None of the regulatory agencies, including the NBA and Ministry of Environment and Forests, had bothered to verify compliance with the B D Act throught out this period, and began to take action with much reluctance after ESG filed the complaint.

 

The RTI query was filed seeking all documentation pertaining to the case filed by ESG. Shockingly, and quite questionably, NBA has refused to part with the documentation even to the complainants. Justifying this stand, it has controversially and peculiarly claimed that the documentation cannot be shared with the complainants as “the matter is under advanced stage of lodging of complaint and taking into account the intricacies which involve nuances of biotechnology it is felt that it may not be appropriate to provide the documents/instructions at this juncture”. Evidently, NBA is not even sure if this is the right decision to take, and ESG will file an appeal against this decision soon.

 

As reported in the media, the decision to initiate criminal prosecution against this case of biopiracy was taken by NBA in its meeting held on 28 February 2012, after it was put to a vote. The vote became essential as some members of the NBA were keen on stopping the prosecution. This when when NBA had already resolved in June 2011 to prosecute the violators, a fact repeatedly confirmed in Parliament by the Indian Environment Minister Smt. Jayanti Natarajan. ESG has consistently raised concerns over such dithering by NBA to initiate action against violators of the Biological Diversity Act.

 

Karnataka Chief Minister urged to re-initiate prosecution against Bt. Brinjal violators

 

ESG has also submitted a representation to Karnataka Chief Minister Shri. Sadananda Gowda urging him to immediately revive the decision to criminally prosecute those engaged in biopiracy through the Karnataka Biodiversity Board. It may be recalled that the Board had decided to initiate appropriate legal action against University of Agricultural Sciences (Dharwar), Monsanto and Mahyco for accessing 6 local varieties of brinjal illegally from Karnataka, and converting them into transgenic B.t. Brinjal products, all in violation of the Biological Diversity Act. However, due to pressure, apparently brought by none other than the Principal Secretary of Karnataka’s Environment Department (the chief custodian of Karnataka’s biodiversity), the investigation built over two years was suspended in a controversial decision of the Board in January 2012. ESG initiated a mass petition in February this year against this illegal and retrograde decision to the Chief Minister. Over 500 groups and individuals across India and the world have endorsed this representation which is accessible at: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/karnataka-biodiversity-board-must-prosecute/. A copy of the representation now made to the Chief Minister is also enclosed.

 

More details about ESG’s efforts to tackle biopiracy in India, including documents listed above, are accessible at: www.esgindia.org

Leo F. Saldanha

Coordinator/Trustee

and Co-complainant in the aforesaid Biopiracy case with

Bhargavi S. Rao

Coordinator (Education)/Trustee

Environment Support Group

 

About ESG: Environment Support Group is a small group committed researchers,lawyers and activists responding to various issues of environmental, social justice and governance concern. More details about the group may be accessed at: http://esgindia.org/about-us/esg-team.html

 

Donate to ESG: ESG relies on public support and your generous contributions to advance its various public interest initiatives.   Details on how you can contribute can be accessed at: http://esgindia.org/about-us/what-you-can-do.html


— Leo Saldanha Environment Support Group – Trust [Environmental, Social Justice and Governance Initiatives] 1572, 36th Cross, Ring Road Banashankari II Stage Bangalore 560070. INDIA Tel: 91-80-26713559-61 Fax/Voice: 91-80-26713316 Email:leo@esgindia.org Blog: http://leoonpublicmatters.blogspot.com/ Web: www.esgindia.org

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