India records at least 1,000 cases of acid attack a year, mostly on women. In the majority of cases survivors belong to the lower socio-economic background, making their fight both in society as well as in the legal sphere an uphill task. While a number of laws have been enacted by the Parliament of late to regulate the sale of acid, weak enforcement means it is still available freely over-the-counter. Survivors also have to deal with apathetic government machinery, private hospitals reluctance to treat them as well absence of basic facilities in those who do.
In such circumstances, obtaining even an interim compensation becomes a harrowing experience for those who are already traumatized by the attack. HRLN’s Campaign Against Acid Attack (CaAA) initiative is part of its larger Women’s Justice Initiative (WJI) that seeks to make use of existing laws to oppose all forms of violence against women and gender-based discrimination. The framework of ‘women’s justice’ involves not only the prevention of specific forms of violence and discrimination against women, but also encompasses all other human rights, including the right to food and health, disability, housing, labour rights, dalit, tribal and adivasi rights, environmental justice and criminal justice, etc. CaAA also seeks to reform laws related to violence against women and ones related to acid attack justice in particular.
What we do
Our focus has been on women, although men have been survivors of acid attacks as well. Justice for acid attack survivors has evolved through the years with the judiciary in particular taking the lead in setting the tone for compensation and rehabilitation of the survivors.
HRLN provides multi-dimensional support to acid attack survivors – from providing them with legal counseling to lobbying with various stakeholders such as the police, State and Central government ministries as well the District Legal Services Authorities of various states to provide survivors with proper compensation. We also work closely with the Department of women and Child Development and National and States’ Commission for Women.
Through strategic litigation, CaAA aims to herald systemic changes in the way acid attack survivors are treated. CaAA through PILs in various High Courts and the Supreme Court seeks implementation of policy and rights framed to compensate and rehabilitate the survivors. We provide representation for survivors seeking compensation and rehabilitation as well as assist the survivor in seeking access to proper medical treatment for acid attacks. CaAA actively seeks to oppose bail for accused in acid attack cases and represents the survivors in their criminal cases.
Issues of Concern
- Compensation for survivors
- Rehabilitation of survivors
- Private hospitals’ refusal to treat acid attack patients
- Sale of acid
- Granting of bail of accused
- Sensitisation of police/administration
- Changes in law
- Violence against women/safety of women in public spaces
HRLN’s Campaign Against Acid Attack initiatives’ broader aim goes beyond instant relief provided to survivors but focuses equally on providing long-term rehabilitation to survivors of such horrific crimes through the legal framework. In one of the watershed cases brought by HRLN’s lawyers, the Karanataka High Court treated the act of acid throwing as an attempt to murder rather than an attempt to cause grievous injury, thus delivering a precedence-setting verdict. The verdict also made the offence non-bailable and imposed a life sentence on the on the perpetuator. In another case filed by the CaAA unit of HRLN which had huge impact on acid attack survivors the Supreme Court of India in Parivartan Kendra vs. Union of India and Ors directed the Central and states governments to include acid attack survivors’ names in the disability list, hence helping them find employment under the reserved category.
Another important decision that came out of Parivartan case was the Supreme Court’s observation that the compensation amount set in a previous case (Laxmi vs. Union of India and others) was in no way restrictive in deciding on compensation, i.e., the Laxmi case sets no upper limit on compensation that can be granted to an acid attack survivor. This ruling from the Apex Court has helped in getting adequate amount of compensation for the survivors.