Acid attack: A vicious assaultWhat one can do during an acid attack?

Depiya Thoudam
What is an acid attack?
Acid attack is the action of throwing acids or any other corrosive liquids onto the body of another, usually at the face. The main intention of the perpetrators of such attack is usually not to kill the victims but to disfigure, humiliate and torture them. Their motives could range from female rejection to family feud. It is of one of those attacks that affect women disproportionately, 80% of the attacks are on women. Women are attacked when they rejected the sexual advances made by the attackers. Even women are attacked by their own husbands. It is often more common in south Asian countries and India is among the top countries with high acid attacks. In Manipur, acid attack incidents are not that popular but it does happen. If you are a regular reader of a National newspaper, you will surely come across acid attack incidents happening in different parts of India on regular basis, monthly or even sometimes weekly. According to figures published by NCRB (National Crime Record Bureau), between 2014 and 2018, there have been nearly 1500 victims of acid attacks in India. But the grim reality is that the number is much, much higher than this. Lots of attacks go unreported because of social stigma and involvement of family members or relatives.
What are the punishments for acid attacks in India?
Section 326A of the IPC (Indian Penal Code) titled “hurt by acid attack” specifically criminalised acid attacks and attempted acid attacks, where the accused shall be punishable with minimum imprisonment of 10 years which is extendable up to life imprisonment and with fine up to Rs 10 lakh. Section 326B titled “intentionally throwing or administering acid” says that the accused shall be liable to a term not less than 5 years which is extendable to 10 years with fine up to Rs 5 lakh. Despite these specific legislations for acid attack in IPC, India continues to be the country having the highest number of acid attacks with lowest number of convictions, highlighting the ugly truth that the India legal system related to such a vicious assault is slow, poor and not efficient enough (which have become defining features of Indian Legal System) . Even after 8 years of Supreme Courts’ order (in 2013) to end the open over-the-counter sale of acids, whereby the seller and purchaser of acids must have a license, shops selling acids are required to maintain a record of the sale and purchase made, acids are still sold and purchased like any other commodity in the market in different parts of India. Easy access to acids is the primary factor for such attack. Making a law or order is useless until it is implemented in its true spirit. India really needs to strengthen its legal system and strictly put in action its orders and regulations. An acid attack victim is going to carry the physical and mental scars for his/ her life. The inexplicable pain and emotional hardship they continuously experience in their lives, only they can know, they are much beyond our imagination. If life means life, the attackers involved in such heinous crime should be definitely put behind bars or be given death penalty if appropriate. Because many victims lost their lives if immediate medical care is not provided to them.
What to do during an acid attack?
If you are unlucky enough to witness an acid attack or become a victim of one, acting as quickly as possible can significantly make a difference in minimising the damage to eyes, skin and surrounding body areas. The minutes just after an acid attack are really critical and the affected areas must be washed with lots and lots of clean water. The question that should come to our mind immediately should be “how am I going to dilute this?” instead of panicking (yes it is human natural instinct to be scared and panicky in such a situation, but this would not do anything good, so we should try our best to calm down and  think properly). If you are a victim then you should try to get help from the people around you and get water to the affected areas as quickly as possible. So run to the nearest venue or store where you could get hold of as much as 60 litres of water (water should be clean water or else it can further worsen the affected areas by causing severe infections). If you are helping a victim, then before doing so, you have to make sure that you are in safe environment, clear of any attacker in your surroundings. The first aids to be given to an acid attack victim can be summed up as 3Rs- “Report, Remove and Rinse”. Every acid attack is to be reported and ambulance should be called immediately. While waiting for the Ambulance, any contaminated clothes or jewelleries that had come in contact with acid should be removed from the affected body areas. While removing clothes, care should be taken that the acid from the clothes is not brought in contact with other unaffected areas of the body. Then the most important step is rinsing. As soon as possible, rinsing the affected area continuously with clean water to wash off the chemical should be done for at least 20 minutes. The rinsing is also advised to be continued until the burning sensation stops. Unless properly trained, it is not advisable to try to neutralise the burns caused by the acids. Application of any kind of creams or ointments to the affected areas should be avoided as they could prevent hospital treatments like antibiotics from working effectively.Efforts should be made to get the victim to the hospital burns unit as quickly as possible.
As a society, what can we do?
 As mentioned before, acid attacks have a gendered aspect to them; mostly the victims are young women and girls. The attackers purposely aimed for the face (as so much bearing is placed on the physical appearance of woman and girls). By disfiguring the face of the acid attack survivors, the attackers believed that they could limit victims’ social life and damage their chance of marriages which in turn have many more implied impacts in addition to the physical and emotional traumas inflicted by the attack(sadly, this is also what actually is happening). We as a society, we should not judge a woman by her appearance (unfortunately which is the case in our society) and stop blaming the victims. Treating the victims as social outcasts is to be stopped. Because if we still do then we are actually ensuring that the attacker’s mission of ruining the victim’s life or her stand in the society is a success. Giving public awareness about such attack; how to deal with it when you are a victim or how to give first aids to a victim; as a society, what we can do to provide equal feelings to the victims so that they can live their lives normally, are some thoughts and action that are worth giving time.
The writer is an alumna of Miranda House, Delhi University