While individual cases are not always reported, the following cases & their struggle are important milestones in the campaign against violence against women. It is imperative that a strong message be sent out that this horrendous form of violence against women will not be tolerated. The following challengers being themselves survivors of ruthless acid attack have continued to be at the forefront of the campaign for justice for victims of acid attacks. Their never-dying spirit & unending courage will continue to give strength to other survivors in their battle.
Ms. Haseena Hussain, Bangalore 1999
Haseena was working as a computer operator. Her boss, Joseph Rodrigues, made advances to her & kept pestering Haseena to work for him. Finally she left his failing company & began to work in another firm. When she refused to return he poured a full jar of sulphuric acid over her on 20th April,1999 which resulted in severe disfigurement of her face & body & complete loss of sight. The severity of acid burn resulted a hole in her head, dissolved her lips, nose, earlobes, welded one side of her neck to her shoulder, her fingers fused together. After the horrendous attack she had undergone 18 surgeries costing 6 lakhs rupees.She is still blind & has severe disfigurement. She is unable to get employment & her surgeries has been indefinitely postposted due to financial constraints.
Following a long drawn out five-year criminal trial in the Sessions Court, in which the victim was exhaustively cross examined, the accused was only convicted for causing grievous hurt and not attempted murder as the prosecution argued for. In an extremely insensitive and unjust decision, where the judge did not account for the severity of the attack or its consequences to Haseena’s life and livelihood, the accused was sentenced to a mere 5 years and 3 months in jail with a fine of 3 lakh rupees.
On appeal to the High Court of Bangalore the accused was convicted for attempt to murder and sentenced to life imprisonment and a further 2 lakh rupees was awarded to Haseena. The judge rightly acknowledged that ‘the consequence of pouring a large quantity of sulphuric acid on the head is likely to cause death must be known to him (the accused) or has to be inferred and as such in our view, the offence clearly falls under the category of attempt to murder’ (para 43, Joseph Rodrigues vs. State of Karnataka, Karnataka High Court)
The Supreme Court of India aslo upheld the order of theHigh Court.
Ms. Sonali Mukherjee, Dhanbad,
Sonali, then 17, a bright student of Sociology and a member of the 5th battalion of NCC girls’ wing was a vivacious young girl. She nurtured hope of a bright future. But her world came crashing down after being subjected to years of sexual harassment. She was repeatedly teased, harassed and followed around for nearly two and a half years, scared and frustrated, she complained to her father who was a watchman in a mill. Finally on the fateful night of 22nd April 2003, she was drenched with cocktail of acids in her innocent sleep by her neighbours turned eve-teasers, Tapas Mitra, Sanjay Paswan & Bhrahmadev Hazra for spurning their advances. The attack left her blind in both eyes, partially deaf, melted away skin on the skull, neck, chest & back. She continued suffering with no one coming to her rescue & no steady source of income. She lost her grandfather who went into shock after the attack, while her mother slipped into depression. Her father has spent everything to keep her alive. Meanwhile, her attackers are out in open threatening her to inflict even greater harm. Mitra & Paswan were sentenced to three years in jail & are now out on bail while Hajra was let off for being juvenile. Nine years after the attack, Sonali was running from pillars to post in Delhi for help from Government. She was commuting between Jharkand & Delhi’s Safdarjung Hospital for treatment. She was being paid Rs200 per month from the Government as disability allowances for being physically challenged .With no help from Government she demanded euthanasia as she could not afford her medical cost. Gradually her case was brought to public notice through media with benevolent people coming to her aid. Some amount of money were raised for her surgeries which estimated a whopping 30 to 35 lakhs. She was receiving media attention & even invited in the popular game show, “Kaun Banega Crorepati” ( meaning Who wants to be a millionaire?) hosted by Megastar Mr. Amitabh Bachchan. She was accompanied by the elegant actress & former Miss Universe Mrs. Lara Dutt Bhupathi who supported her cause. Mr. Bachchan much moved by her courage & grit appealed for her in the social networking sites. Meanwhile Hon’ble Minister for Women & Child Development, Smt. Krishna Tirath also proposed free treatment for acid attack victims. With rising number of reports of such attacks, the cabinet approved a proposal to make acid attacks a separate offence and The relevant law was brought into force in April, 2013. According to Sonali, acid are being used as weapons like guns, but with no laws to regulate its sale & distribution. A highly concentrated acid can be bought for less than 50 rupees a bottle, which is enough to ruin a woman’s life. “They may not have killed me but I might as well be dead” said Sonali. Sonali had undergone 22 surgeries with 9 more left for her ears & eyes to be functional. She has recently been offered a clerical job in the office of the Deputy Commissioner, Bokaro by the state government of Jharkhand.
Acknowledgement: The Hindu, NDTV reports.