Haryana government’s scheme for relief and rehabilitation of women acid attack victims is insufficient, say women’s groups
Three teenaged girls, all students of a well-known public school in Haryana’s Rohtak, were returning home from their tuition classes in June 2011 in the evening when two young men on a motorcycle waylaid them and threw acid on them. While two of the girls were lucky to escape with minor injuries, the third one, Kavita (name changed), sustained serious burns on the face and other parts of the body and struggles to cope with the physical and mental trauma till date.
The shocking incident evoked massive public outrage and widespread protests across the State and grabbed national headlines. Nonetheless, it was followed by a spate of similar attacks on young girls and women in the neighbouring districts of Sonipat and Bhiwani — initiating a debate on the new form of violence against women in the State which is notorious for high female foeticide rate, skewed sex-ratio and trafficking of brides from eastern States.
While psychologists blamed the attack on a host of psycho-social and sexual factors such as negative feelings, mental sickness and peer pressure, women’s groups called for stricter laws for such cases and the need for a helping hand from the government for the treatment and rehabilitation of acid victims.
Almost two years after the Rohtak acid-attack case when the Haryana government recently notified a scheme for the relief and rehabilitation of women acid victims, activists have rejected it as a “half-hearted attempt” that has failed to address the key issues of “immediate monetary help, counselling and rehabilitation”.
“My experience with the Rohtak acid attack case shows that arranging money for the treatment is the immediate concern of the victim’s family in such cases. The treatment for acid attacks is very costly and large sums of money are needed. In the Rohtak case, the victim’s family had to shell out more than Rs. three lakh for treatment in the first few days itself, whereas the government’s scheme provides just Rs. 25,000 as immediate relief which is a drop in the ocean. The relief should be need-based and prompt so that the victim could be given best possible treatment without a delay,” said All-India Democratic Women’s Association national vice-president Jagmati Sangwan, who has been closely associated with the Rohtak acid attack case.
The acid attack leave the victim disfigured and could lead to post-traumatic stress and thus the need for a trained and professional counsellor to bring out the victim’s repressed emotions, but Ms. Sangwan felt that the government-appointed counsellors in the districts are not competent enough for the job. “It is not just the victim, but her family also finds it difficult to cope with the post-attack trauma and needs professional counselling. But the counsellors at district-level, most of whom are hired on contract basis, neither have requisite qualification nor training to handle such sensitive cases. Whether it is a case of domestic violence or a rape or of runaway couples, it is the same counsellor who handles all and lacks specialisation to understand the needs of different kinds of victims. At least in case of acid victims, the government must take services of professional counsellors to ensure proper counselling. The scheme should have a provision for this.”
The rehabilitation plan for the acid victims as laid out in the new scheme is also rejected as mere “eyewash”. “The rehabilitation plan should be long-term and enable the victim live a normal and dignified life. It is possible only when the victim is made professionally competent in her area of interest. Since most of the acid victims come from middle-class families, their rehabilitation is not possible through Swadhar Shelter Homes which lack even basic infrastructure and are not equipped to cater to the rehabilitation needs of such victims,” said Ms. Sangwan.
And it is not just about the monetary assistance and rehabilitation of an acid victim, but she also has the right to justice and it can be ensured only with a sensitive police and fast justice delivery system in place. “The Rohtak acid case is one perfect example of the patriarchal mindset of the police and its chaotic style of functioning. Initially, the police tried to blame the victims for the attack saying that the girls knew the accused and instigated them for the attack with their conduct revealing the deep-rooted patriarchal mindset of the society. But when the people took to streets demanding arrest of the accused, the police went to other extreme rounding up some 20 teenagers on suspicion and paraded them in the public. And then the families and relatives of those detained took to streets blaming the police of witch-hunting. And it ended up in complete chaos.”
“In fact, most of the provisions made in the scheme were there when the Rohtak case happened, but the implementation was not proper. If the government can ensure that its promises are delivered, much can still change on the ground,” summed up Ms. Sangwan.