An online petition by BITS Pilani students demands the government to regulate the sale of acid in the open market.
Acid attacks in India have risen from 106 in 2011 to 249 in 2015, showing an inability of our country to battle with this heinous crime. Despite the Supreme Court directive in 2013, it seems nothing has been done to regulate the availability of acid.
To highlight the improper implementation of the Supreme Court guidelines, a student-run NGO at BITS Pilani – Nirmaan Organization – took up this issue and began a campaign called Campaign for Acid Regulation (CARE). They brought forth this sensitive issue and filed an online petition which demands the government to regulate the sale of acid in the open market so that the number of acid attacks is mitigated.
Inspiration behind the CARE
Talking about how they started the campaign, Akshay Mundra, a third-year student at BITS Pilani and a member of Nirmaan, points out, “The issue came into prominence in a discussion when a first-year student Rishav Sinha told us about Sonali Mukherjee, who has been a victim of an acid attack.”
Sonali hails from Dhanbad, Jharkhand. Her face was permanently disfigured by an acid attack in 2003 when she was just 18. This acid attack left her blind and deaf. She pleaded for justice from the Indian authorities but was denied. Nine years later, after having received no money or assistance from the state, she demanded for euthanasia. In February 2014, the State Government of Jharkhand appointed her as Grade III clerk in the welfare department of the Bokaro deputy commissioner's office.
It was at the deputy commissioner's office when Rishav met Sonali, while he was visiting his father’s office. Seeing Sonali’s disfigured face, he says, “I went up to her and asked what can be done to stop such brutal acid attacks.”
In her reply to Rishav, Sonali explained, “Even though the government has made the law against acid attack but the implementation is very poor. Today, a bottle of acid is easily available in the open market and it costs just Rs 20 for a bottle. Therefore, there is a need for nationwide regulation of the sale of acid in India.”
Today, Sonali still lives in Dhanbad, is married and has a four-month-old daughter.
The alarming number
The rate of acid attacks has also seen a rapid rise in the past few years, 85 percent of victims being women, thus making it one of the most horrifying gender violence.
The reasons for the attacks as Akshay highlights, “It ranges from refusal to have sexual relations to not having cooked a proper meal. The ease of availability of acid in open market facilitates such attempts. A brutally cheap bottle of acid and an inhumane intent is all it takes to ruin a life.”
Setting their hearts to battling this atrocity and injustice, these students at BITS Pilani started an online petition, asking the government to make proper rules and laws so that acid cannot be bought so easily from the market.
The petition to regulate acid sale
The online petition by Nirmaan Organization appreciates the government for including acid attacks as a 'kind of disability'. However, the foremost demand of the petition is to put in place the Supreme Court guidelines in 2013 regarding the selling of acid in open market. Immediate action must be taken in all states and Union Territories to make laws based on those recommendations and must be implemented strictly.
Another major demand of this petition is to set up a nationwide regulatory body which will keep track of the supply chain of acid and also help the acid attack victims with monetary compensation, medication, and legal representation.
As Akshay emphasised, “A nationwide regulatory body was set up in Bangladesh which led to the decrease in the number acid attacks in the country. We in India also need to set up a similar national regulatory body in order to reduce the incidence of acid attacks.”
Furthermore, the students have also requested for fast track courts in every district for dealing with cases related to women, thus ensuring a speedy trial for the victims.
The CARE also plans to educate the public regarding the use of acid and the required safety precautions to be taken as well as making them aware of the consequences of misuse of acid.
Moreover, the Nirmaan Organization has also written to the Honorable Minister of Women and Child Development, Maneka Gandhi, pressing their demands against this heinous crime. The organisation got a productive feedback from the ministry.
Making it a student movement
Various student organisations from different institutes like Delhi University (college like Miranda House, SriVenkateshwara College, Maitreyi College, Jesus Mary College), National Power Training Institute, BVCE, and Jaypee Solan have become a part of the initiative. Making it a large student organised movement across the country. The campaign is also supported by NGOs like Stop Acid Attacks and Atijeevan Foundation.
Emphasising on the organisation of the student movement, Shubham Jain, a first-year student, points out, “This large student movement has the potential to bring about a revolution in the country and in the lives of countless men and women. The campaign was started by us to help the women of the country and make India safer for its daughters.”
Shubham along with Rishav have taken the up the idea forward to bring the issue across various NGOs and student organisation at a national level.
In a small time, the movement has gathered extraordinary momentum and the team looks forward to building pressure on the government. After the online petition gets 50,000 signatures, the organisation will put forward the petition to Minister of Women and Child Development, Smt. Maneka Gandhi, and the Home Minister, Shri Rajnath Singh, in order to bring this to the notice of the government and demand immediate action so that such heinous crimes can be stopped in the country.
Lastly, Rishav expresses, “The story of Sonali and survivors like her grieved us deeply. But, their spirit is indeed a great source of inspiration to us all.”