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 strengths 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 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 conviction of the accused for attempt to murder was granted and the accused was 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 case is now in the Supreme Court of India on appeal by the accused. In the hearing on 08.02.2007 he was denied bail.
Ms. Laxmi, New Delhi, 2005
The then 16-year-old Laxmi (she was minor when attacked) is the daughter of Munni Lal, a cook working in 42, Golf Links. Her assailants plotted to "teach her a lesson" for having spurned the advances of an unwelcome suitor. Laxmi reportedly dropped out of school and took up a job at New Janta Book Depot in Khan Market on March 29. Guddu alias Naeem Khan, who worked in a factory often, used to visit their home. Laxmi’s mother was very fond of him. Over time, Guddu developed a liking for Laxmi but the affair was one-sided. He would call her and send her messages. Gradually he became increasingly obsessive who was messaging his anger one instant and love the next by SMS. When the mobile records were scanned later after the incident, police found that Guddu had sent her messages on two nights before the attack. In the first, he expressed anger for she never called him. The next night, he told her he loved her. As Laxmi spurned Guddu’s advences, he decided to take revenge. Lakshmi was fond of one Rajkamal , a classmate in the government school she attended at Pandara Road. Laxmi's call records indicate she was close to him. This made Guddu mad with jealousy.
On the day of the attack, Laxmi had planned to go to a computer centre on the way to work and enquire about classes there. The plotters had planned well before they met to carry out the acid attack. Naeem and his brother Imran set out for Seemapuri early in the morning. There they met Imran's "friend" Rakhi.
Guddu and Rakhi sat on the Hero Honda and drove to Humayun Road. They waited for Laxmi, who walked by shortly after having finished a conversation over her cellphone. As she neared the bike, Rakhi got off, pushed Laxmi and threw acid on her face, breaking the glass containing the acid in the process. As the victim writhed in pain, the duo escaped. Later Guddu was taken to police custody and has reportedly confessed to the crime. He was reportedly trapped through his and Laxmi's cellphone records and her statement.
Filing a public interest litigation (PIL) before the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India, Laxmi, through her counsel Aparna Bhatt, had sought framing of a new law or amendment in the existing criminal laws like IPC, Indian Evidence Act, & the Code of Criminal Procedure for dealing with acid attack as special offence & had also sought compensation.
Referring to the compensation to acid victims, the Law Commission, headed by Justice A.R. Lakshmanan, quoted the landmark judgement of the Honourable High Court of Kerala in the State of Karnataka in the Jalahalli Police Station vs. Joseph Rodrigues case (decided on 22 August 2006) wherein the accused was convicted under Section 307 of the IPC and sentenced to imprisonment for life. A compensation of Rs. 2,00,000, in addition to the trial court fine of Rs. 3,00,000, was to be paid by the accused to the victim’s parents. The acid attack deeply scarred the victim’s physical appearance, changed the colour and appearance of her face and left her blind.
Submitting a report to the Supreme Court of India in the Laxmi Writ Petition (W.P. (CRL) No. 129 of 2006),the Law Commission of India pleaded for inclusion of acid attacks as specific offences in the IPC, and a law for compensation for victims of crime. It also stated that the criminal law relating to grievous hurts in Sections 320, 322, 325 and 326 of the IPC is insufficient to deal with the phenomenon of acid attacks. It also prayed to frame guidelines and an Act be passed to attend to the needs of all acid attack victims in India.
Acknowledgement: The Times of India, Delhi & National Law Commission Report.
Ms. Shirin Juwaley, Mumbai, May 28, 1998
Shirin is phoenix redefined, rising from her own ashes. Her incident dates back to 1998 when she was 24. Like other young women, she completed her higher studies & agreed to an arranged marriage with hopes of a happy married life. But soon after she saw deep cracks in the relationship & decided that she did not want to remain trapped in an unhappy marriage. She opted out & asked for a divorce. She returned to her parent’s home & started working. May 28, 1998, changed her life forever in a split of second. When she was returning home around 9pm, a man in black attire with dark glasses came to her. She knew it was her husband but before she could realize anything he threw acid on her face & fled to Kuwait the same night. She was admitted to hospital traumatized with a disfigured face & only her mother by her side. But she was too strong to be subjugated. She decided to build her own life once again & moved to United States for further medical care. While being provided financial assistance from some benevolent organizations, she had undergone several surgeries for her facial features recreation. Initially though she lead a life of a recluse, soon she could not continue living life like this. She started going out hiding herself behind a burkha. She went online to look for support groups for burn victims & formed a support group in Masina hospital in Mumbai. While in US for her surgeries she realized that there was no need for her to wear a burkha since the acceptance level was much higher & people were not as intrusive. Returning to India, she however, managed to get a job with an organization that worked with children & youth. A burn victim would often face loss of livelihood & difficulty to reintegrate themselves into the society. They suffer from low self -esteem as jobs are offered due to sympathy instead of merit. In 2008 she went to South Wales for higher studies, where she submitted thesis on disfigurement leads to disability due to social exclusion. She received a distinction & the best student award which was a great boost to her self esteem. On her return to India, she founded Palash Foundation to help burn victims like her. She formed support groups in various hospitals assisted by friends who volunteers. Drawing from her own experience she feels burn victims should first come to terms with their own problem because denial hinders the ability to deal with it. Shirin’s former husband now in Kuwait , lives freely with his new wife and family. Sixteen reconstructive surgeries later, Shirin now has a nose, eye lids that function and a radiant smile. She is an advisor to Acid Survivors Trust International (ASTI).
Acknowledgement: The women who conquered acid attack- Rediff.com (A Ganesh Nadar report).
Ms. Sonali Mukherjee, Dhanbad, 22nd April 2003
Sonali, then 17, a bright student of Sociology, 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 receives Rs200 per month from the Government as disability allowances for being physically challenged .With no help from Government she demanded euthanasia as she cannot 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 this month approved a proposal to make acid attacks a separate offence, making it punishable by 10years imprisonment & a fine of up to 10 lakh rupees. This will now have to be approved by Parliament. 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 needs financial assistance for further treatment & rehabilitation. ASFI has been in constant touch with her since last few months about her progress. She has expressed her desire to be a part of ASFI after her recovery to help other survivors like her. She has truly set an example.
Acknowledgement: The Hindu, NDTV reports.
Kavitha Hajera, Chennai, 2003
Hajera is an acid violence survivor from Chennai. Her husband regularly abused her . After taking years of abuse she finally accosted him with a wish to divorce. Consequently her life changed forever. Bent on punishment & revenge, her husband spared her no mercy. Her husband threw acid on her while she lay on bed – her eye destroyed, the vision & eye-lid completely gone She looked scary with eyes open while asleep. After the incident, she had undergone several surgeries for which she had spent all her savings, sold flat & jewellery. Fortunately she managed to get back to her government job as an accountant. According to her, beauty or no beauty one can do this job & become financially independent. But for a girl, face is important & she had to answer people for her scarred face & kept repeating her gruesome incident. She was fearful because her husband was free & he would be looking for her children. Luckily her case went fast in the court & police gathered much evidence. Her husband was convicted for 7 years on the charge of attempted murder. Hajera is happily remarried now & is keen to serve the cause of acid victims. Hajera, in one of her interviews said “From all of this I have learnt that women should be educated. Education needs to go to women. Education has played a very important role in my life because if I was uneducated it would mean that I would not be able to go to work, I could not earn any money for myself. If I was uneducated I could not go for a job as a housemaid because everyone would not like me because of my face. Educated jobs mean you can still do this with a scarred face or by not looking like everyone else.
Another thing is that women need to speak out against violence. Things are changing but still women need to come out and voice themselves otherwise they will get violence like this (she says pointing to her face).
So many women like me have gone back to their husband. Because of threatening, they are worried it would happen again or to their children. So they do not speak out. I know one girl who was attacked by her husband. One morning he heated up oil and poured it over her face whilst she slept. I took care of her. She lost one eye-sight, and one eye is slowly going. I took her to get surgery, and after I took the children and put them in an orphanage. She had three small children - 6, 4 and 2 year olds. I admitted all three into a care home. Afterwards she is now living with her mum on the streets. The case went so bad that the husband did not get convicted. She did not go to the court or put a lot of fight into the case. I don’t know what happened in the middle of all of this, now he came back and she is living with him again. I don’t think he gave her money because he is so poor, a manual labourer himself.
It is not only like this, there are lots of suicide cases. Through harassment and abuse this happens. Burns should not happen to anyone in this world. Everyone can handle anything, all injuries, but they can not handle a burnt face. Man or woman, they hate to go near by a person who is burnt. They can not handle looking at contractures like this. Even their own close relations! Physically and mentally the victim dies.
There are different types of burns, and it’s because of violence only, because of harassment. Common is kerosene burns, because they can burn easy. They file cases as stove burst. So many never wish to go to court and so they themselves have no voice. They are doing a big mistake.
Acid is very cheap. Men come on to streets, go up and down the street selling it. Strong or mild, it's all so bad. Our skin is so sensitive and soft. It is a cheap weapon. One girl expired; she was in hospital for 3 months because of a neighbours quarrel and the neighbour lady just poured acid on her. It was a simple quarrel, and she died! It is a cheap, dangerous weapon. There are no restrictions. In all, so many shops they sell acid. In my case he especially brought this to burn me - not to clean the kitchen with."
Acknowledgement: Rajpreet Sandhu’s report for ASTI