Australia Network Logo
Acid attack victims fight for tougher laws
Survivors of acid attacks in India have been fighting for increased regulation of the sale of the lethal substance, and say more reforms are needed, as Stephanie March reports.


Acid attacks on women are a disturbingly common part of life in South Asia.

Often the perpetrator is a spurned lover or a relative, and their weapon is a bottle of acid purchased for a few dollars.

In India, acid attack survivors have been fighting for increased regulation of the sale of acid.

They've had some success but say more reforms are needed.

India correspondent Stephanie March reports.

And a warning some viewers may find this story distressing.
Transcript
STEPHANIE MARCH, REPORTER: Laxmi was 15 years old when a 32-year-old man she barely knew asked her to marry him.

LAXMI, ACID ATTACK SURVIVOR/RIGHTS CAMPAIGNER (translation): I said no, and one day when I was in market the man's younger brother and his girlfriend attacked me. He put his hand on my face and she threw the acid on me.

STEPHANIE MARCH: The attack happened in broad daylight in an up-market Delhi suburb.

LAXMI (translation): The police took me to the hospital, then I fainted. The doctors threw 20 buckets of water on me. When my parents came there I hugged my father, and even after the buckets of water were thrown on me the acid ate through his shirt.

STEPHANIE MARCH: It also ate through the skin on her face, chest and arms.

LAXMI (translation): My life was unusual. I just went to the court and the hospital, and I lost all my relationships and my friends.

STEPHANIE MARCH: Laxmi is one of a disturbing number of women who are the victims of acid attacks across South Asia.

Often emotional revenge borne out of a refused marriage proposal, a lover's disagreement or a family or property dispute, the consequences of acid attacks are devastating.

DR SHAHIN NOOREYEZDAN, PLASTIC SURGEON: As a doctor, as a surgeon, we are used to dealing with death and accidents and injuries and so on and so forth.

(Images of acid attack victims are shown)

But when we see these girls, and we see their mother and their family, and we see and we know the future of this girl, it's really, really, really stressful.

STEPHANIE MARCH: Dr Shahin Nooreyezdan is a plastic surgeon who treats acid attack survivors at an expensive private hospital in Delhi.

While it's a crime that defies caste and social standing, Dr Shahin says most of the women and girls struggle to afford the treatment they require.

DR SHAHIN NOOREYEZDAN: They come to us with a lot of hope. And it all costs money. Many of them, they get aid from the local member of parliament or the government agencies and so and so forth, some NGOs. And, yeah, but it's tough. It's tough.

(Images of acid attack victims are shown)

STEPHANIE MARCH: While the cost of treating victims figures in the tens of thousands of dollars, the acid itself is cheap and available in stores and households across India. It's commonly used for cleaning toilets and bathrooms.

ARPARNA BHATT, LAWYER: I am considering acid as a dangerous arm, a weapon.

STEPHANIE MARCH: Not long after Laxmi was attacked, she and lawyer Arparna Bhatt filed a public interest litigation suit on behalf of acid attack survivors calling for change.

ARPARNA BHATT: One, that they should be an amendment to the pena; court which would include or specify acid violence as a separate offence, so that due attention is given to that. That is the first prayer we asked for. The second prayer we made is that sale of acid would be banned. The third one was about rehabilitation, and the fourth one was for compensation.

STEPHANIE MARCH: Last month, the government announced it would restrict the sale of acid and force retailers to keep detailed logs of the people who purchase it.

(Images of acid attack victims are shown)

Regulation or not, there's little doubt acid attacks will continue.

(Footage of acid attack victim in Madhya Pradesh is shown)

Only days after the government announced the sale guideline, a woman was kill and her two sisters injured in an acid attack in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh.

DR SHAHIN NOOREYEZDAN: You can procure acid if you wanted to from a car battery. You can do anything. It's about abusing the woman, it's about maiming her. If you restrict them from the acid they will do something else.

STEPHANIE MARCH: Laxmi's fight is not yet over. She's now attempting to get the government to pay the medical costs of acid attack survivors.

LAXMI (translation): So from 2007 to 2009, I have had seven surgeries. I still have to go for surgeries on my ears, eyes and nose, and then there is cosmetic surgery.

STEPHANIE MARCH: She's already spend spent about $AUD20,000 on surgery.

DR SHAHIN NOOREYEZDAN: It's just ongoing and it's never - it ends after a while, really, when we decide that we can't make her look any better.

STEPHANIE MARCH: While many agree restricting acid sales and paying medical bills will go some way towards helping victims, there's a deeper issue that India has to address.

LAXMI (translation): My message for the boys is that it isn't the right thing that if the girl you want to marry says no you throw acid on her. She is not always the right person for you, and that is the wrong thing to do.
Advertisement
Home and Away
Improve Your English
Advertisement
Explore Australia Network
TV Guide
Ways to Watch
News
Learning English
Sports Lounge
About Us
Australia Network Home
Help
Legals
© ABC 2014