Victim attacked thrice before meriting police aid

The recent acid attack on a 22-year-old woman at a crowded railway station by a man who had allegedly attacked her twice before has raised questions as much about police apathy in dealing with cases of harassment as that of safety.

“This is the third time that she has been attacked, earlier she was attacked on the face with a small knife. After the first attack we moved from Malwani to Nallasopara to feel safer,” Seema Thakur, mother of the victim, said. On Wednesday, the regional railway police arrested a 25-year-old man, the victim's former landlord, for throwing acid on her face. The victim, presently at Singhvi hospital, has been provided police protection. However, her earlier attempts to book a complaint went in vain. “I don't know why the police did not register a case when we approached them earlier...her doctors are confident that she will recover but the family will always be scared,” Mrs. Thakur said.

“Incidents such as an acid attack do not emerge suddenly; negative feelings repressed over a long time finally result in something so hurtful. So why do the police and society refuse to act when it can be stopped, before it ruins a woman's identity?” asked Shirin Juwaley, who survived an acid attack by her husband in 1998.

“We are socially conditioned to accept that men can eve-tease or harass women and the only time we address the issue is when something shocking happens. The police also do not feel the need to address the issue unless a woman is traumatised enough to make the headlines,” said Juwaley who currently runs an NGO, Palash, to help women in similar situations and helps victims of disfigurement.

Soniya Gill, secretary, Maharashtra All India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA), said, “Why did the police wait to act until the woman was attacked with acid? How could the earlier attacks with blades not be registered?...The police must be asked why they did not do anything when the girl approached them on two previous occasions.”

While officials at the Malwani police station refused to speak on the issue, the railway police very proudly claimed that adequate measures were in place to ensure the safety of women passengers. “There are extra constables in each local train compartment from 8.30 p.m. till 6 a.m., helpline numbers are written everywhere so that in case of a problem there is a quick response,” said Ankush Shinde, DCP, Western Railways. However, the city police cut a sorry figure in providing data for cases of attacks on women. “There are very few cases of such attacks that are actually reported because in most cases the attacker is a known person,” the police spokesperson said. The victims, however, recalled their experience vividly. “I was burned and completely disfigured, but when I asked the police to file a case against my husband and his brother, I was asked to forgive, forget and reconcile,” said Sneha Jawale.

Ms. Jawale was harassed for dowry and in 1997 she was doused with kerosene oil and burned. “How much security can you have if you are attacked in your house by your husband and the police refuse to register a case? What can security do then? It was not until our divorce proceedings that the incident was recorded. Before that, the police simply refused to acknowledge it.” Today, Ms. Jawale is a successful astrologer and writes dialogues for Marathi films and TV serials.

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