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June 2017 Edition of Power Politics is updated.  Happy Diwali to all our subscribers and Distributors       June 2017 Edition of Power Politics is updated.   Happy Diwali to all our subscribers and Distributors       
Issue:June' 2017


Why is acid still being sold?

Purnima Sharma

The bottle in his hand and the scarf covering his face should have made me suspicious, but I was too innocent to think there was anything amiss," says Shaheen Malik whose world came crashing down within seconds when the man in question threw acid on her face. This was in 2009. Today, 18 surgeries later, Malik has accepted that the right side of her face is scarred -- never to be healed -- and that she has lost an eye. The goon had been hired by a jealous woman who suspected that her husband was giving Malik unwarranted attention.

"Yes, they take away our very identity," adds Malik talking about how normal girls change their look to ape some actress or the other. "Here, we want to just look like our ownselves," she states wistfully.

Shaheen Mailk "All this happened because acid is freely sold despite a court ban. And despite the rising number of cases, nobody takes it seriously," says the 29-year-old who is now part of the Human Rights Law Network as a national coordinator working for acid attack survivors. Acid attack is looked at as one of easiest weapons to punish or take revenge on a woman – used not just by spurned lovers but also to settle scores over financial issues and even by men angry with their wives for not giving them a male heir.
"Imagine, at a cost of just about Rs 30 you inflict not just grievous physical but also psychological and mental trauma that lasts a lifetime," says Malik who was among those calling for stricter laws against the sale of acid and severe punishment for those who use it to inflict harm at a seminar on acid attacks at the Indian Womens Press Corps in Delhi.

Reshma Querishi models the Archana Kochhar collection during Fashion Week in New York Calling acid attacks a crime of passion, Dr Ashok Gupta, a Mumbai-based plastic surgeon says it comes from a (imbalanced) sense of power. Having done reconstructive surgeries on "innumerable" acid attack survivors, he also stresses that the number of attacks will not come down unless there is strict punishment on the sale of this spurious liquid. Giving examples of Pakistan and Bangladesh, he says the number of acid attack survivors was considerably reduced soon after these countries adopted this simple measure. "If Bangladesh can bring down the number of acid attacks from 1,200 to 200, why can't we? Of course, strict punishment is will also be a deterrent," he informs. Agrees Malik: "Imagine what I go through when I see my culprits out on bail while I am saddled with constant pain, mental trauma and a face that is not mine."

Pooja Khandelwal with husband Sanjay and children More often than not, the perpetrators of this heinous act do not want to kill the person. Rather, these acts are calculated to permanently disfigure, debilitate and psychologically destroy the victim. That is what Kapil Gupta had in mind when he threw acid on Pooja Khandelwal in 2005 for rejecting his marriage proposal.
"I refused to marry him only because his mother -- fearing that I will not bring enough dowry -- did not want me as her bahu," says the 32-year-old. But a persistent Kapil refused to take no for an answer. And so, in a bid to teach his lady-love a lesson he took this step that burnt off not just her face but also parts of her shoulders, arms and feet.

There is also a crying need for these survivors to be made part of the mainstream. "This can be achieved only by making the general public sensitive to their pain and suffering through advertisements, short films and even a chapter in the school syllabus," insists Jyoti.

His Token of Love -- Niraj Gira According to Khandelwal, hers was not the first acid case in her hometown, Kanpur. "The first attack took place in 2000 and the numbers had since been going up," rues Khandelwal adding, "These attackers seem to have no fear of the law." Kapil attacked her in 2005 in broad daylight on a busy road and yet disappeared and went underground for three years.
It was only after immense pressure on his family from the police and media that he surfaced and was put behind bars. Seven years of imprisonment and Kapil is out. "Ab aaram se baitha hai ghar par," says Khandelwal. The only consolation she has is that while he is addicted to drugs and drinking, she is leading a happy life with her husband, Sanjay ("who insisted on marrying me – saying mujhe surat nahin seerat se shaadi karni hai"), and two small children. Ask her if she's still angry and hurt at what happened to her and

she says, "Woh to jeet kar bhi haar gaya aur main haar ke bhi jeet gayi." But what can be a deterrent for s u c h " c r i m i n a l minds is punishment by acid only – only then will they be able to understand what harm they have caused", she asserts, "Lakhs and lakhs of rupees cannot undo the havoc caused by this act of sheer madness."

Pratibha Jyoti "Yes, they take away our very identity," adds Malik talking about how normal girls change their look to ape some actress or the other. "Here, we want to just look like our ownselves," she states wistfully. Now working with acid-attack survivors, she is hoping to raise a collective voice to grab the attention of the lawmakers so that efforts are made to stop more such crimes from happening.

The Unrobable Joy -- Neeraj Gira "Acid attack, if I may say so, could be even worse than rape only because a rape victim cannot be identified by her physical appearance unless someone knows her as one. But for an acid attack victim, there is no escape – she is identifiable 24X7 and subjected to people's scrutiny, comments and sniggers."
Talking about her own e x p e r i e n c e s , Khandelwal adds, "People look at you as if you are a jaanwar in a zoo. I have even been called a bhoot to my face. There was a time when even my mother and brother would get scared of me. Can you imagine how such things hurt?"

The victims of acid attack stage a protest dharna in New Delhi demanding stringent law against the sale of acid. While hurt, bitterness and anger may persist, most acidattack survivors want to look ahead with hope. Like Malik, Khandelwal also wants to work towards the rehabilitation of acid victims and help those from the economically weaker sections. But for now, she is looking forward to another reconstructive surgery that has been lined up for her in a few weeks' time. "I know my face will never be the same again, but I still have hope," she smiles.

Transfiguration -- Neeraj Gira Hope is what keeps Sapna cheerful despite the "bhayanak" pain she endured three years ago by a man whose advances she had spurned.
"Maybe it's to do with the fact that I am happily married," says the 23-year-old who married the man of her choice a year after the attack. While looking after her home and reconstructive surgeries keep her occupied, she wants to work towards raising awareness about the hazards of acid attacks "and how awful they can be". That is why she wouldn't wish them even on the man who threw acid on her. "But I am happy that he is in jail," she says.
Despite 15 surgeries and three eye operations post the acid attack on her ten years ago, Renu Sharma has not got either her face or her eyesight back. And though the man responsible for it languishes in jail (though she says "aaram se kha pi raha hai meri zindagi kharab kar ke"), Sharma would rather he be made to endure the same suffering he inflicted on her – all because he didn't want to give rent to her father, a small-time dairy owner in Shahdara. And now, with no monetary help from the government, their dairy sold, buffaloes (that also suffered burns in the attack on her) dead and father becoming a heart-patient as a consequence, Sharma is looking to stand on her own feet.
The 29-year-old has done a spamassage course and is taking braille-computer classes. "I am also studying for my class X boards because basic educational qualifications are a must," says Sharma who was forced to give up school at the age of 13 after she lost her mother to look after her four little siblings.
Some amount of pain and damage can be controlled if timely help is given at hospitals, says Pratibha Jyoti, author of 'Acid wali ladki' that traces the life and trauma of acid-attack survivors. "There needs to be a special cell for their treatment in every hospital and medical college."
Often, in the face of the physical trauma that the victims endure, mental trauma gets ignored. "More and more platforms need to be created that make these su rvi vo rs feel wan ted ( so many o f th e m are ost raciz e d e ven b y their own famil ies ), h e nc e co unseling by p sy ch ologist s i s an abs olut e mu st, " says Jy oti.
Dr Gupt a g iv e s the ex a mp le o f ac id at tack surv i vo rs' c l ubs in B an g la de sh that "pro vid e grea t scope f or psychological bonding ".
A nd a lon g sid e, as h e says t h e r e is a ls o t he n eed fo r re ha bil i tat i on . " Th e g o ve r nm en t d oes g ive the m co mpe nsat io n bu t many -a-time, i t do es n ot reac h the vict im s w hich is very un f ortunat e."
There is a lso a cryin g need f or th e se survivors to be made pa rt o f the m ai n st r e am . "Thi s can b e ac hieved o nly b y m aki n g th e g eneral pu bl ic s e nsitive to their p a i n and su ff eri n g th r ough advertisem ent s, sh ort f ilms a nd ev en a c ha pt er i n th e s cho ol sy llabus," i ns ists J yo ti .
Delhi -b as e d pho to graph er N eera j Gira w hos e s olo sho w ' S a cred Tr a ns format io ns ' based on their lif e "s h ows a cid -at ta ck surv i vors ' t r an sf orm at ion f r o m devast a ti on to confi dence, fro m wrec k age t o ha ppi n e ss " a gree s th a t a pos it iv e approac h toward s th e m is a m us t.
Hav ing wo r ked with acid-att a ck su rvi vo rs for m ore th an t w o y e a r s now, Gera says th a t despi te "a few odd m o ment s, t h e y beli ev e in a pos it ive approach to l if e ". He gi ves exampl e s of h ow some of thes e su rvi vo rs ar e w ork ing in cafe s speciall y create d for th em in cit ie s like A g r a, Lu ckno w a nd Udaipu r.
"Tw o ac id surv i vors ga ined enough confi den ce to be p a rt o f fashion week s in New Yor k and London. Wh e rever they g o, I j us t se e th em s pre a d ing h a p pin es s and cheer," sm iles Ger a pro ud ly poi nti ng to his photo g r a phs in which 1 5 a ci d a ttac k v ic tims have mod el ed "un self co n sc i ou sly an d wit h a feeli ng of pri de in b ot h t h e i r inn er as w e l l a s outer beauty. "