April 5, 2013.
There are 1,000 acid attacks a year in India. One young victim is campaigning for more to be done to prevent them
“Go ahead,” Chanchal Paswan tells the photographer. “I want the world to see what has happened to me.”
The 18-year-old’s face is a mess of pain and ravaged flesh, a mouth that can barely open and spaces where her eyelids and ears were located before they were destroyed by the acid thrown at her.
Remarkably, this same face is also a source of defiance. In the weeks since the teenager was attacked by four young men, she has put herself forward as part of campaign demanding the government do more to prevent such assaults and to punish the culprits. She has insisted people do not look away.
Acid-throwing is not a crime that is unique to India. From Afghanistan and Pakistan to Bangladesh and parts of South East Asia, there are hundreds of cases of lives being destroyed in this wretched way. Almost without exception, it is women who are the victims.
In India, activists estimate there may be as many as 1,000 attacks a year. Until recently there was no separate crime of acid throwing and data was not collated. Yet in the aftermath of the gang-rape of a Delhi student, an incident which triggered debate about the position of women in society, new legislation was passed, recognising acid-throwing within the Indian penal code and setting a punishment of 10 years imprisonment.
Campaigners believe the government can do much more. Seven years ago, India’s highest court directed the government to take steps to prevent such attacks and yet nothing has been done to restrict the sale of acid. “We are not satisfied,” the court said in February.
Chanchal was attacked as she slept alongside her 15-year-old sister, Sonam, who is partially-sighted, at their home in a village ten miles from Patna in the state of Bihar, where her father is a day labourer. Her alleged attackers were four young men, one of whom had proposed to her a year earlier and who was apparently angered by her rejection. Her sister was injured too and will also likely be scarred for life.
Sitting on a bed at a charity-run guesthouse close to the hospital in Delhi where she came to see a specialist, Chanchal said she had been taunted by the young men and that they mocked her as she made her way to computer classes, four miles from her home. As she recounted her story, her mother and father stood next to the bed, anguished beyond measure.
Read the rest here.
*****Comment: See also an article entitled "Combating Acid Violence Against Women" (March 8) by the Executive Director of Acid Survivors Trust International (ASTI), Jaf Shah, in BAPRAS.
ASTI works to combat acid violence through partner partner organizations in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indian, Nepal, Pakistan and Uganda.
You can read survivors stories provided by ASTI here.
The vast majority of victims of acid violence are women and girls. Nitric or sulphuric acid - which is cheap and readily available - is used to maim and punish women and girls who have spurned sexual advances or angered a spouse or relative. Most victims survive but are permanently disfigured and this has serious consequences for their chances to earn a living and lead a normal life.
Some victims, however, do not survive as was the case for Anvu Sha a 15 year old Pakistani teenager whose parents used acid to kill her because she was supposedly seen talking to a young man - another version of the accusation her father leveled had her looking at young men riding past on motorbikes.
Anvu Sha's parents confessed to dousing her with acid in what is considered an "honor killing". In 2011, for example, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan reported that 943 women were killed in honor killings. This number is very likely to be an underestimate at best since most attacks are either hidden or go unreported.
ASTI says that there are about 1500 acid attacks globally each year but points out that it is very hard to report an accurate figure for the reasons pointed out above.
Acid violence against women received much needed global attention last year when the documentary by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy entitled "Saving Face" won an Oscar.
The documentary covers the story of a Pakistani woman and her struggle to recover from an acid attack.
I have not seen the documentary and I am not even sure whether it has been screened here in South Africa. Maybe you have seen it and can add some more details here.
I do, however, remember that the director was sued by the Pakistani woman, Rukhsana, whose story is told in the documentary. ASTI joined that lawsuit to force Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy to compensate Rukhsana .
Nonetheless, see SavingFaceFilm.com and this March 2012 article in The Daily Beast for more details on the documentary.
At the very least we should all be educating ourselves to stand against this horrific practice.
That said it is necessary to stand against the usual Islamophobes who will argue that acid violence and honor killings is the work of Muslims and Islam or "primitive" (see comments under this article for example) and backward peoples.
This is nonsense and racist at the very least. No patriarchal society anywhere can claim to be exempt from violence by men directed at women and girls.
Call it acid violence or honor killings or corrective rape or spousal assault or just murder; too many men anywhere and everywhere of every stripe and religious persuasion are perpetrators of patriarchal based violence against women.
It is just a fact no matter how horrific the details in any particular case may be and, therefore, the usual self-inflated bigots and Islamaphobes in the West would do well to look at themselves before pointing accusatory fingers elsewhere.