The last thing the country wanted was another victim of gender-based violence in India succumbing to injuries long after the crime had been committed. The death of J. Vinodhini, a 23-year-old B. Tech graduate, due to complications caused by a heinous acid attack in Puducherry on November 14 last year, is not just another addition to the large and, regrettably, increasing database of offences against women; rather, it is an example of the inexplicable masculine tendency to inflict grave injury on women in such manner that someone merely going about her life is converted overnight into a symbol of victimhood, forced into a battle for survival and then transformed by death into a brave-heart she did not aspire to be. On the surface, such attacks may be the perverse product of unrequited love but they bear the ugly imprint of a violent, patriarchal culture that valorises the right of a man to stalk, possess — and eventually even disfigure — the woman he desires. All will empathise with the trauma and agony undergone by Vinodhini and her family due to the senseless act of a spurned suitor. It is only appropriate that the law recognises their pain and the need for meet justice. The Justice Verma Committee recommendations on this find expression in two new sections in the Indian Penal Code (Sections 326A and 326B) introduced by the February 3, 2013, ordinance. These envisage a maximum of 10 years in jail for those causing disability or disfigurement through the use of acid, and a five-year term for throwing or trying to throw acid on another.
Since the fear of arrest under stringent laws is unlikely to deter a crime of passion, experts feel the primary effort to curb acid attacks must lie in reducing easy access to the means to commit the crime. The Supreme Court has directed State governments and the Centre to meet and discuss provisions to regulate the sale of acid, to ensure treatment, care and rehabilitation of victims, and for payment of compensation. Scaling up facilities for psychotherapy for those feeling depressed or rejected is another possible intervention. Be it the physiotherapy student in Delhi who is now an iconic figure in the copious annals of sexual violence in our country, or Laxmi, an acid attack victim who approached the Supreme Court in 2006 seeking a special law to deal with the use of acid to maim women physically and destroy them psychologically, it is not enough to remember their courageous fight for staying alive or their desire to bring their assailants to justice for their symbolic value. Rather, their death and suffering should occasion a determined revisiting of our laws and practices, attitudes and prejudices.