Even as the gang-rape victim whose story has fuelled fury across India was admitted to Safdarjung Hospital last weekend, a teenage victim from Bihar’s Siwan village was also being checked in to a ward down the corridor. The 15-year-old had been blinded in one eye and left extensively disfigured after four persons attacked her with acid three months ago. Yet, few people know her name — and almost no one knows her story.
The acid-attack victim’s story is more representative of the fate of the tens of thousands of Indian women who suffer violence than that of the gang-rape victim — who, because of the public and media support, received the best treatment possible.
“While at Safdarjung Hospital,” said Mohammad Ashraf, “we watched politicians, social workers and university students making a beeline for the gang-rape victim whose story was on television. But nobody at all cared to see this other girl admitted to the same hospital, also a victim of a brutal attack.”
Her alleged attackers studied with her in the tenth grade. They poured acid on the face and body after pinning her down, leaving her unable to breathe, speak or eat normally. Her nose is disfigured, and back scarred with extensive burn injuries.
Her family says the attack took place because she refused to speak to the classmates — sparking off an ego-driven attack. “Now,” says her father, “the lawyers for the accused are saying they are juveniles, and it seems as if they could be out of jail in a few months. My child, however, has lost her chance of a normal life forever. Nothing will give her the sight back.” Her face is so badly disfigured that her younger siblings are scared of coming near her.
Mr. Ashraf, a petition-writer in a lower court, is the sole earning member of the lower middle-class family. He claims to have already spent more than Rs 1.5 lakh in a private hospital immediately after the attack.
He says doctors have told the family they have to be prepared for at least four or five years of repeated visits to hospitals for follow-up reconstructive surgery. He has no idea where the money will come from. “I am worried about where to get enough money to feed my children,” Mr. Ashraf says.
“I appeal to the government to help us financially so that I am able to ensure some hope and dignity to my child,” says Mr. Ashraf.
Providing a conservative estimate for reconstructive surgery for an acid attack victim, Max Hospital, Saket, Aesthetic and Reconstructive Surgery director Dr. Sunil Choudhary said: “In this case we are talking about multiple surgeries and several rounds of follow-up. The cost of these medical interventions in any standardised medical centre would easily run into a few lakhs.”
There are no specific government schemes providing compensation for acid attack victims. A senior official in the Central government’s Women and Child Development Ministry said: “There are fewer acid attacks in the country when compared to other crimes against women, also since this is a State matter some States in India have established funds for acid attack victims but there is no Centralised scheme under which compensation can be given to acid attack victims.”