Three acid attack victims empower women through their bravery and determination.
By Claire Murray (Contributor)
Five Indian women that survived disfiguring acid attacks, modelled for an unprecedented photo shoot. They consequently, challenged both the life of social rejection prescribed by their attackers and the world’s perception of female beauty.
Delhi photographer, Rahul Saharan, volunteered to shoot the fashion portraits and ultimately elevated the self-esteem of acid attack survivors; Rupa, Rita, Sonam, Laxmi and Chancha. Rupa commented, “It was a wonderful shoot. I’m a very shy girl, but Rahul made it easy and comfortable for us all to face the camera with pride.”
Rahul said, “’I kept telling the girls ‘don’t let others tell you what beauty is, you yourself are beautiful, every woman is beautiful’.” The concepts of empowerment, re-building ones self-perspective and self-acceptance, propagated in Rahul’s statement can be aligned with the objectives of the Stop Acid Attacks charity.
The invaluable work of Stop Acid Attacks is evident in Rupa’s, one of the photographed survivors and the designer of the clothes modelled, statement: “I always wanted to be a designer but after the attack there was a pause in my life. I was so insecure and embarrassed by my scars I used to cover my face with a scarf. I always hung onto my dream but I never knew that one day it would be possible and I would be launching my own label.”
The Stop Acid Attacks charity published figures stating that in 95% of Indian cases the perpetrators are “spurned lovers.” Furthermore, the Acid Survivors Trust International published figures stating that, “women and girls are victims in 75%-80% of cases,” and “of the female victims, about 30% are under 18,” years of age.
Indian women, like the five photographed survivors, live in a male-dominated society and thus, when seeking justice, for the heinous crime of an acid attack, women face a lengthy process and a male-dominated judicial system.
Acid is readily available throughout South Asia as it is widely used in the cotton, rubber and jewellery industries, and can be sold for as little as 50 cents per litre. In India the chemical industry is deregulated, meaning that there is no governmental regulation of production, storage, distribution or sale of chemicals.
India’s lack of regulatory procedures in terms of chemical sales combined with a lack of legislation on acid attacks results in insufficient deterrents for the crime. This ultimately explains why acid attacks predominantly occur in India: Acid Survivors Trust International estimated that 1,500 acid attacks occur worldwide, every year and attributed approximately 1,000 of these attacks to India.
A lack of legislative support meant that survivors relied fully upon charitable organisations for rehabilitating support after an attack. However, in 2013 the Supreme Court of India issued a Supreme Court Order on Acid Attacks which stated that all States and Union Territories had framed rules regulating the sale of acid and other corrosive substances. The Supreme Court emphasised that the regulations were to have immediate effect and that the Chief Secretary of each State or Union Territory will be charged with ensuring implementation. In addition, the order declared that the offence of an acid attack is to come under the Poison Act, 1919 and is to be made “non-bailable.”
Lastly, the Supreme Court made sanctions to ensure that victims will receive compensation from the concerned State government/Union territory. The Supreme Court of India and India’s Central government have thus, worked effectively in securing justice for acid attack victims. Let us hope that the bravery of these three women will put a stop to acid attacks against women in South Asia.