Acid horror

Print edition : March 08, 2013

J. Vinothini, the victim of the acid attack in Karaikal. Photo: R. Ragu

THE face of J. Vinothini, a 23-year-old software engineer who died in Chennai on February 12 following an acid attack on her three months earlier, will haunt Vatsalya Janani Balasubramanian, a student of Asian College of Journalism, for a long time. “I did not expect her face to be so disfigured,” said a traumatised Vatsalya, who had been to Aditya Hospital where Vinothini breathed her last. In the attack, Vinothini had lost vision in both eyes.

Vinothini’s death has focussed public attention again on the horrendous crime of acid attack. In most cases, the victims are young women who spurn the overtures of men. It is a carefully plotted, premeditated crime: the attackers know the gravity of the crime they are going to commit, and still embark on it.

Generally, nitric, hydrochloric or sulphuric acid is used in the crime. Treatment means hospitalisation for several months and several rounds of plastic surgery, which are expensive. If the victims survive, their lives are ruined forever, their self-esteem is shattered and they are unable to step out of their homes. Jobs are almost impossible to get. To get married is even more difficult.

On February 6, hearing a writ petition filed by Laxmi, a victim of acid attack, a three-member Bench of the Supreme Court, comprising Justices R.M. Lodha, J. Chelameswar and Madan B. Lokur, directed the Centre to set up a meeting of Chief Secretaries of all States and Union Territories within six weeks to forge a consensus on regulating the sale of acids. The petition pressed for curbs on the sale of acids across the country. Mohan Parasaran, Additional Solicitor General, told the court that the Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance, 2013, promulgated by the President recently, included two new Sections, 326A and 326B, in the Indian Penal Code making acid attack a specific crime and providing a maximum punishment of life sentence for it. He said the Union Home Secretary had wanted the Union Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers to check the feasibility of setting up a committee to bring in legislation to ban the sale of acids across the counter. In fact, Vinothini’s death led to a chorus of demands from political parties in Tamil Nadu for such a ban.

A B.Tech graduate, Vinothini of Karaikal, a part of the Union Territory of Puducherry, was working as a software engineer in Chennai and staying in a women’s hostel. She had gone to Karaikal in November to celebrate Deepavali with her parents. Her father, V. Jayapaul, was a security guard in a school at Karaikal.

Suresh (28), a construction labourer there, wanted to marry her, but she turned him down. On November 14, when Vinothini and her father were walking towards the bus terminus at Karaikal for her to catch a bus to Chennai, Suresh aimed the acid on her face. Her face and shoulders sustained severe burns. Her father, too, suffered burns on his hands.

The police arrested Suresh, who was remanded in judicial custody. Vinothini received initial treatment at Karaikal, then at JIPMER in Puducherry, and later at three different hospitals in Chennai—the Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital, the Kilpauk Medical College Hospital and the Aditya Hospital. Dr V. Jayaraman, a plastic surgeon who treated her, said he had spoken to her the morning before she died. “She appeared to be recovering. But she had a massive cardiac arrest and attempts to revive her failed,” he said. A sharp dip in the level of proteins, caused by burns, led to respiratory failure and her death.

Tamil Nadu has a history of acid attacks, which include the attack on K.K.S.S.R. Ramachandran, the then propaganda secretary of one of the factions of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) at Sattur on September 5, 1988, and the one on the then Commissioner of Archives, V. Chandralekha, who belonged to the Indian Administrative Service, on May 19, 1992.

Other victims include T. Deepa (September 2009), Priya (June 2006), R. Sreevidya (April 2005), S. Nirmala (May 26, 2003) and Valentina, (September 2000). Except in the case of Priya, where her mother threw acid on her, men targeted the women for cold-shouldering their advances. In one case of role reversal, Srividya (19) invited her friend Neloy (20) to her residence and poured acid on him in March 2010.

In an informed article entitled “Acid attack on women” published in The Hindu on May 24, 2005, Rameeza Rasheeda says:

“The impact of the crime is catastrophic for women… because normal life is impossible and the future remains bleak… the victims often contemplate suicide…. It is an extreme form of revenge on women.... Acid attack cannot be treated as an act of rage because the offenders plan meticulously the type of acid to be used, the quantity, the time and the venue of the attack. Insensitivity of the police, the importance given by the judiciary to minor contradictions and lapses in the prosecution’s statements cause the offender’s easy escape from conviction.”

T.S. Subramanian

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