When the movie released in 1988, I was a mere toddler. At that time, most Bengali households seldom visited the movie theatres every time a new Bollywood flick released. Consequently, I had to wait a further couple of years to hear about the movie until it was telecast during primetime matinee hour. Even then, I could not watch it, primarily because of parental restrictions. And I openly admit, I haven’t watched the movie yet, even after all these years. So, for a long time I did not know what the meaning of the word “Tezaab” is. If I were a Hindi movie buff or an Urdu enthusiast, I would have looked up the meaning. Being neither, I passively waited for the word to unravel its meaning through the release of yet another movie, (which I got to watch), “Gangajal”.
But I believe my pre-teen cousin knows the meaning of the word and that is from not watching any movie. It is from hearing the word repeated over and over again in Hindi television news channels. “Tezaab” or “Acid” has become a very popular term in media, courtesy of the ever increasing incidences of acid-attacks on women all over the country.
‘Vitriolage’. There’s even a fancy name for it. But, there is no legislation in India, condemning the act. The 2008 proposition of the Law Commission1 for introduction of a new section (326A) in the Indian Penal Code to deal with the crime of acid attack has so far failed to stir any action. Even if the law is implemented, the question ‘is a jail term of ten years or a fine of Rs. 10 lakhs sufficient compensation or proper judgment in acid attack cases’ stands out glaringly. The punishments proposed sound like mild rebukes in the face of a crime, which to me, is far grievous than murder.
Murder of a fellow human being is a heinous act, undoubtedly. It puts an untimely end to a life. At least, it comes with an ‘end’. But this vicious crime of acid attack is a terrible way of subjecting a person to perpetual torment. The physical pain inflicted when the acid touches the skin is insignificant compared to the emotional and psychological trauma that the victim has to endure as long as she lives. And then, our society is rather famous for rude pointing and staring, than compassion towards a victim of violence.
The government answers to the plight of the victims, whose number is steadily increasing, by providing them with compensations, government jobs and a promise of a healthy pension upon retirement. There is no questioning the logic. Although the state cannot provide protection to women from being attacked on a daily basis, or lodge their complaints in advance of the crimes, it is amenable to providing women with a secure money earning source so that they can pay their taxes with which the same government shall pay their daughters in future, when it’s their turn to be victimized. It makes perfect circular sense.
Lesser logical minds like mine might question, “why not restrict the sale of such a powerful weapon of destruction”? Our neighbouring country Bangladesh, through two legislations passed in 20021 has banned the open sale of acids. In India, acid is sold cheap and used readily in tanneries, marble nameplate etching, conch bangle making2 and also in educational institutes. They even broadcast advertisements showing acid use for toilet cleaning. Such ready availability and open publicity reduces the severity of the chemical in the eyes of the masses. Surely, banning open sale would help the situation?
But the state knows best. Given that the ‘acid-laws’ in Bangaldesh are tagged ‘dead laws’ by the country’s Women Lawyers’ Association2, our government would perhaps argue “what’s the point?”. It could be a first step towards sparing the country from having to stow away the melting faces of their daughters.
Pakistan, through a 2010 act3, has made acid attacks ‘illegal’. As ridiculous though it may sound, at least there is a law in that country, however weak that maybe. It promises life imprisonment to the perpetrator. Before that law was passed, the Qisas law of Pakistan mandated subjecting the perpetrator to similar treatment1. Both these laws have failed to check the rising number of acid attack cases in the country. At least, they did not fail to give the victims some hope.
But of course, India is taking the high road and ‘providing financial compensations’. That is more ‘substantial’ than false hope of implementing a bill that shall actually get some work done in checking the crime rate in the country. So taxpayer fathers and mothers of India fail not to pay your taxes in time; for that maybe your daughter’s compensation money, when she is acid attacked or violated.
There is just one hitch that is troubling my lesser logical mind. If the government spends all the tax-money in paying compensations to the women victims, how is it going to pay the salaries or generate new employment avenues? Wouldn’t that increase frustration among India’s sons and trigger a higher crime rate? If that means more women victims, more compensation, more tax money spent………, nah, my mind can’t take this much strain pursuing a circular argument.
The government knows best.