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Relief awarded only after long battle by acid attack victim

INDIA: Relief awarded only after long battle by acid attack victim

On January 17, 2014, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) issued an urgent appeal (AHRC-UAC-005-2014, http://www.humanrights.asia/news/urgent-appeals/AHRC-UAC-005-2014) for immediate intervention and financial assistance to a survivor of acid attack in the Indian state of Assam as per the guidelines issued by the Supreme Court of India in 2013. Women in Governance (WinG-Assam), a network of women activists in Assam, India, had apprised the AHRC about the acid attack on two young girls, Nirupama Kalita, aged 18, and Karishma Kalita, aged 12 and their mother and grandmother. They were attacked with acid while they were returning home from a local religious site on November 6, 2013, in Assam's Darrang district. This caused serious injury. Karishma, her mother, and grandmother all suffered injuries, while it was Nirupama who suffered grievous injury. The victims were immediately admitted to Asamarik Medical College Hospital, Mongoldoi. Later, they were shifted to Gauhati Medical College Hospital, Guwahati, for appropriate treatment. Nirupama had already undergone four plastic surgeries and related treatment when the AHRC issued its Urgent Appeal. At the time, to continue better treatment outside the state, the family was in need of more financial resources.

However, it is only in March 2014, after a draining battle with judiciary and other justice delivery institutions, that the authorities have ordered compensation for the victims as per the mandates of law. The insensitivity of the state for the victims of the attack has only added to the trauma.

The authorities have sanctioned 300,000 rupees as compensation for Nirupama Kalita and 61,000 rupees for the other family members injured in the acid attack. And, this has only been possible after a long battle in the Guwahati High Court, District Court and constant visits for assistance from the State and District Legal Service Authority.

In order to raise awareness about the violence against women in Assam, WinG-India organized a public hearing in Guwahati on January 8-9, 2014, and this case was presented before the public domain. The jury members of the public hearing visited the chief justice of Gauhati High Court and appraised him about the case. Chief justice forwarded the case to Portfolio Judge of Darrang district.

On 20 January 2014, activists from WinG-Assam requested for the early payment of 3 lakh INR as compensation as per Supreme Court's order to which the Portfolio judge replied that the 'Supreme Court order requires to be examined first as though SC has laid such a verdict its not compulsory to follow the same'. The judge also asked for the bail documents of the accused when the activists demanded proper investigation by police. Procurement and submission of these documents required some time. On January 24, 2014, all the documents were submitted and they were asked to contact the Judge after Saraswati Puja holidays. Later, it was informed that the case has been admitted in the Gauhati High Court sou motu (Writ Petition (Civil) 749/14) and is still sub-judice.

Regarding the compensation amount fixed by the Supreme Court, the family initially applied to the District Commissioner, Darrang, the Home Secretariat, the Health Minister, the Chief Minister, as well as that of local politicians and the State Women Commission etc. Later on 21 January, 2014, the family made another application to the District Legal Services Authority (DLSA). After several visits to this office, the family could meet the Chairperson. On 7 March, 2014, the DLSA called for hearing. The documents were presented and a lawyer was engaged by the family to argue about the implementation of Supreme Court's verdict in Laxmi vs. Union of India. DLSA instructed to submit original receipts and vouchers regarding the treatment of the injured victims in order to receive the compensation amount. However, activists accompanying the family members argued that this amount is to be granted under Victim's Compensation Scheme for which expenditure details are not required. Finally on 11 March, 2014, DLSA ordered compensation of 3 lakh INR to Nirupma and 61 thousand INR to others who were injured.

Police investigation in the case has progressed slowly and is incomplete even today. The case, registered under Sipajhar police station [case no 357/13 u/s 341, 326A and 34 IPC], betrays justice and there is negligence in investigations. The bottle of acid left at the spot of incident by the accused was not seized by the police even after they were repeatedly informed about its presence there. The maternal uncle of the survivor took the bottle and gave it for testing in a local laboratory where it was confirmed by experts as nitric acid. Nitric acid was stored in a 1 liter coca cola bottle, which was then concealed in a 3 liter mineral water bottle covered with black tape.

As a part of the police investigation, the suspects were arrested and released. They have been moving around freely in the locality, causing continuing threat to the safety and security of the survivors and family members. Corruption and negligence of duty by the police in this case cannot be ruled out.

The family members have been constantly requesting the police to expedite the investigation. To respond to such a request, the Superintendent of Police (SP), Mr. Jitmal Doleym, accused the victim of immoral character in order to assassinate her character. Following such remark, activists of WinG-Assam on 22 January, 2014 complained to the Additional Director General of Police (DGP) seeking action against the errant SP and also demanded speedy investigation. Additional DGP informed that SP Jitmal Doley has been transferred to another city and Mr. Ganjawala has been deployed at Darrang. He then over phone directed the new SP Ganjawala to handle the case properly. Authorities informed that they are to collect sufficient evidence soon.

From the above descriptions it is clear that the law enforcement mechanism has no understanding of the fact that the impact of acid attack on women is enormous. Acid violence survivors face marginalization from society after the attack. Additionally, it creates fear among women in society. Acid violence, a form of gender-based violence, is defined as a severe form of discrimination under the Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

Acid attack is penalized under Indian law. Section 326A and 326B of Indian Penal Code criminalizes causing or attempt to cause grievous hurt using corrosive substance like acid. Section 326A prescribes imprisonment of not less than ten years, extendable to imprisonment for life, and with fine. Fine shall be just and reasonable to meet the medical expenses of the treatment of the victim and any fine imposed under this section shall be paid to the victim. Also, Section 357A has been inserted in the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, by Act 5 of 2009, with effect from December 31, 2009. This section mandates compensation for acid attack victims or their dependents that require rehabilitation.

Additionally, on July 18, 2013, the Supreme Court of India in a remarkable judgment directed all Indian state governments to pay acid attack victims 300,000 Rupees, of which 100,000 Rupees must be paid within 15 days of the incident. The Court also issued directions to ensure that the stocking and sale of corrosive substances is documented.

These directives are, however, not being enforced in India.

While other states in India are replete with such dastardly attacks, this represents the first reported case of an acid attack in the state of Assam. None of the legal and Court's provisions have been followed to help bring relief and justice for the victims.

The AHRC is concerned about several issues that relate to this case. Despite having clear guidelines regarding relief and rehabilitation for acid attack survivors, the authorities forced those that suffered such a harrowing attack to have to run from pillar to post to obtain the state-sponsored relief via litigation.

The long term consequences of such an attack include not only permanent physical damage but also debilitating psychological, social, and economic difficulties. The cruelty of an acid attack causes tremendous trauma to victims and a long drawn out process of redress and relief can only add to the pain. The protracted and insensitive response of the state exposes the state dishonesty towards its citizens.

It took the district legal service authority over three months to compensate what is rightfully guaranteed by law. This delay hampered the medical rehabilitation of the victim, and in the delaying the relief the state joined the perpetrators to further their goal: to permanently disfigure, scar, and damage the victim and her entire life.

ENDS

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