Tamil Nadu: A case for curbs on acid sale

Print edition : March 22, 2013

ON February 24, Vidya, 21, became the second acid attack victim to die in a fortnight in Tamil Nadu; a man whose advances she had spurned threw acid on her. Her death highlighted the imperative need to place curbs on the easy availability of deadly acids over the counter. J. Vinothini, a 23-year old software engineer in Chennai, died on February 12 of complications following an acid attack on her three months ago. Suresh (28), a construction labourer, had hurled acid on her when she rejected his advances (Frontline, March 8, 2013).

A day after Vidya’s death, an advocate produced before the Madras High Court a few bottles of acid he had bought off the shelf in the city just to prove how easily they were available in shops. Following Vinothini’s death, Shanthi, the State Coordinator of Citizens for Human Rights’ Movement, Erode, had filed a petition in the Madras High Court asking for enforcement of the Explosives Act and a bar on over-the-counter sale of acid. It was during the hearing of this petition on February 26 that the advocate showed the bottles. Although acid attacks on people have been happening, the State government and the Centre have not initiated enough action to curb their sales, the petitioner contended. The court said it was open to the State government and the Centre to take necessary action on the sale of acid.

Vidya’s death spurred Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa to announce on February 27 that a Bill would be passed in the Budget session of the Assembly to control and regulate the sale of acid. Jayalalithaa announced that Vidya’s family would be given Rs.2 lakh from the Chief Minister’s Public Relief Fund. Even in the midst of grief, Vidya’s family donated her corneas.

On February 6, hearing a writ petition filed by Laxmi, an acid attack victim, the Supreme Court Bench of Justices R.M. Lodha, J. Chelameswar and Madan B. Lokur asked the Centre to convene a meeting of Chief Secretaries of all States and Union Territories within six weeks where they can reach a consensus on regulating the sale of acid. Laxmi’s petition pressed for curbs on the sale of acid across the country.

Vidya was employed in an Internet browsing centre in Adambakkam, a suburb of Chennai, where she lived with her mother and brother in a two-room tenement. She earned a salary of Rs.4,000 a month, which was of great help to her family. She was at the browsing centre on January 30 when S. Vijaya Bhaskar threw sulphuric acid on her after she rejected his marriage proposal. Hearing her screams, those in the vicinity caught him and handed him over to police. Vidya sustained burns on her back, hands and legs. She died after 25 days. The police have filed cases against Vijaya Bhaskar under Section 307 (attempt to murder) of the IPC and under the Tamil Nadu Prevention of Harassment of Women Act.

T.S. Subramanian