THE SUNDAY STORY

The two women who suffered acid attacks and were treated at the Government Kilpauk Hospital in Chennai in the last few months had one thing in common: they and their families knew the attackers. They did not have the money to seek treatment in a private hospital. They require the mental strength and physical well-being to see them through the trauma. They came late to the hospital, thus jeopardising the chances of getting better. By contrast, Nirmala, a victim of such an attack around eight years ago, survived but with grotesquely scarred face and body. She lives to tell her story, however. Nirmala, attacked when she was 23, wears a burqa. She lost one ear, an eye and her nose and underwent reconstruction surgery. It was a series of surgeries several years after the attack, mostly with financial support from benefactors. An artificial eye was implanted and after several months of depression and suicidal thoughts, she picked up courage to return to the world of the living. She now has a job.

When acid was thrown at J. Vinodhini, 23, while on her way to the Karaikal bus stand with her father, all that he saw was fumes around her. Until her death three months later on February 13, she suffered extreme pain and battled infection. While Vinodhini was struggling for life, Vidya, 20, who was working at an Internet browsing centre at Adambakkam in Chennai, was attacked with acid. Police are clueless about the nature of acid used.

In all three cases, the families say the men who injured them have shown no remorse. Vidya’s brother Vijay and Vinodhini’s uncle Ramesh say the attackers were nonchalant and expressed no guilt even to the police.

Vidya’s family say first aid was begun at the Government Kilpauk Hospital several hours after the attack. “The attack happened at 1.30 p.m. and we came at 3.30 p.m. but treatment began only after three hours,” her mother alleged. Since Vidya is injured below the waist, she is conscious, and her seeing other people battling for life in the burns ward has led to depression, her family said.

V. Jayaraman, former head of the plastic surgery department at the hospital, who treated Vinodhini and Nirmala, said though acid attacks were rare, the hospital, the second largest centre in the country to treat burns victims, had the experience in treating such victims. “Only if they come immediately can we begin treatment. Otherwise, we will have to wait until the reaction has subsided,” he said.

By immediately, he means within an hour of the attack.

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