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On Male Chauvinism

“Arzoo je shauk they
Woh saree haat gaye
Kitne saare jeene ke
Taage kat gaye…”

Chhapaak‘, the drama film in Hindi that has recently been released in India, is based on the struggle of an acid attack survivor. Noted actor Deepika Padukone has played the role of Laxmi Agarwal – the real-life survivor, a campaigner for Rights of Acid Attack Victims, and a Television hostess – in this movie. Of course, it is not a film made to entertain people, but to portray a harsh social reality! Still, the film has tasted success. It seems that Director Meghna Gulzar has been able to sensitise the Indians about the pain and sufferings of victims of acid attacks!
More than 200 people, mostly women, were attacked with acid in the South Asian nation in 2018. However, only 28 people had been convicted of that crime! As far as the Indian provinces are concerned, West Bengal has recorded the highest number of acid attacks! The Eastern province is followed by Northern province of Uttar Pradesh, and the National Capital of New Delhi! The scenario has remained almost the same for the past five years. In 2019, the number of acid attack victims was 50 in West Bengal… a slight decrease compared to the previous year!

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The reasons behind such attacks are not unknown. Nitric acid (HNO3) is required to make gold jewellery… so, acid is easily available in almost all the major Indian cities. In 2013, the Supreme Court (SC) of India had ordered the Federal and Provincial Governments to regulate the sale of acid in an attempt to reduce attacks on women. The Apex Court further ordered that acid should not be sold to anyone under the age of 18, and people would have to show a valid identity card while purchasing acid. As per the SC ruling, buyers would have to explain why they need the chemical and sales should be reported to the Police. It also ruled that there should be no bail allowed for the acid attacks…
In 2019, campaigners for Rights of Acid Attack Victims informed the Supreme Court that sellers were not verifying the identity of the buyers, and the Police were not taking adequate action against the illegal sellers even after being informed. So, the ruling has been rendered…

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The second reason is more profound – Misogyny! The victims, who have to live with terrible disfigurements, are mainly women and are often targeted by their jealous partners. It is quite natural that there will be an increase in the number of acid attacks in the context of endangerment of women. The Police inactivity, as well as that of the Administration, ultimately encourages criminals to commit the crime.
After committing the crime, the attackers often threaten the victims and their family members to withdraw the cases registered against them! And, they openly exhibit the courage to do so because of the negligence of Administration. The SC had made it clear that there would be more compensation for the victims. However, the officials delay the entire process. As a result, it becomes extremely difficult for the acid attack victims to receive the requisite treatment, which is quite expensive…

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Laxmi Agarwal (L) and Deepika Padukone (R)

Malti, the character in the leading role in Chhapaak, inspires the acid attack victims to dream of a healthy and normal life. Of course, the Sheroes Hangout Cafe in the northern Indian city of Agra is run by five acid attack survivors. Instead of succumbing to victimhood and staying in hiding, these women have decided to lead a normal respectable life and go to work! However, they are exceptions. In reality, the victims live their entire lives with the trauma!
Interestingly, neighbouring Bangladesh has shown how to deal with such a heinous crime. The Government of Sheikh Hasina in Dhaka has not only introduced strict law in order to stop illegal acid trade, but has also ensured proper enforcement of the law by the Police. Bangladesh has further set an example for the Global Community by forming public opinion against acid attacks, arranging socio-economic rehabilitation of victims and providing them with effective legal support. The number of acid attack victims in Bangladesh was more than 200 in 2002… it has come down to less than 100 in the last 10 years!

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Time has come for India to learn something from Bangladesh in this regard…

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