Violence against women is not a new topic to the international community. Examples of hegemonic gender norms leading to oppression have been seen around the world. Thankfully, the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). This convention holds the states that ratified it accountable for ensuring that discrimination against women does not occur, and to take the necessary legal efforts to put an end to it. Because of CEDAW, many crimes against women have been able to grab the attention of the international community. This attention is crucial in pressuring corrupt governments to stop impunity, and gain justice for victims. Take the 2012 New Delhi, India gang rape of a college student named Jyoti Pandey, for example. Her devastating demise was felt by the international community through the press and the release of India’s Daughter. The intense international scrutiny as a result of these releases led to the Indian government making legal reform on issues of sexual assault. Unfortunately, one specifically gruesome crime against women, occurring mostly in Southeast Asia, has been swept under the rug. It is called acid violence.
Acid violence is the intentional act of throwing, spraying, or pouring acid onto victims faces and/or bodies. Perpetrators of acid violence often use hydrochloric, sulfuric, or nitric acid which burns through flesh and bone within seconds. The excruciating pain victims feel as a result of acid burns are not the only problem that they face. Acid violence has extremely detrimental health effects for victims. Often times, victims face blindness, loss of facial or body features, and unbearable mental suffering. Victims are often marginalized in society because of the grotesqueness of the physical damage and accompanying disabilities. Unfortunately, many Indian women have suffered the effects of acid violence. Acid violence is often used on Indian women who have “allegedly or actually” disobeyed subordinate gender roles. Other reasons like hurting male pride, rejection, family and marriage issues, land disputes, or dowry related reasons have been noted. These heartless attackers generally will aim to throw the acid on a woman’s face, intentionally destroying her physical identity. Acid violence is particularly such a heinous crime because it is done with the intention of seriously maiming and destroying the dignity of another human being.
Acid violence in India has been justified as “keeping women in their place.” This incredibly vile mindset has caused many Indian women to suffer for the rest of their lives. The Indian government has left hundreds of women without justice. The Indian Penal Code (I.P.C.) does not criminalize acid violence, despite the growing number of reported cases. The closest attempt is Section 326 of the I.P.C., which “deals with causing gracious hurt by throwing of a corrosive substance.” This vague code does not even closely begin to describe the various injuries that victims have to deal with as a result of this “corrosive substance.” It, also, does not deal with the discriminatory intent and planning behind the attack. Lastly, it does not come close in defining clear provisions for awarding compensation to the victim. Under this code, many perpetrators have been sentenced to a maximum of seven to ten years which is incredibly insufficient when comparing the amount of time, the victim suffers. Often, these perpetrators end up being released a lot earlier than the seven to ten sentences.
This is impunity in its finest form. To add icing onto the nauseating cake, many victims are unable to get past a police report because the police and/or her family will assert that she should compromise. This pressure to not seek justice is detrimental to victims as they as it prevents them from truly ever restoring their dignity again. Luckily, nongovernmental organizations like Acid Survivors Trust International (ASTI), Stop Acid Attacks, and Acid Survivors Foundation India have raised awareness about acid violence globally. Through fundraising, these NGO’s have been able to secure prosecution teams to help these victims continue their search for justice. They have been able to pay for medical bills that often become unbearable to burn victims as India does not have health insurance, so patients must pay completely out of pocket. Also, NGO’s have been able to give psychological treatment to victims which is essential because many lose their self-esteem and suffer from depression. The international community plays an even bigger role than NGO’s in establishing justice for these type of crimes.
The United Nations has to step in and hold the Indian government along with these criminals in an international tribunal for violating the Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. These NGO’s cannot do it alone, lawyers around the globe should petition to the UN and demand justice. Acid violence is unacceptable, and should be punished severely. If the United Nations applies pressure on the Indian government to do something, they will. The Indian government has to create a code of laws defining and outlining punishment for acid violence. These codes have to increase the minimum and maximum sentences for acid crimes, as well as defining compensation to acid violence victims. If the government institutionalizes the condemnation of acid violence and takes the necessary legal steps that it committed to do in CEDAW, only then will acid violence in India reduce.