acid attacks
Photo Courtesy of Khan Waqas & Basit Parray

Stop Acid Attacks: How Misogyny Is Surging in Kashmir

Toxic aggression resulted in unjustified action on women in Kashmir, India. An attack that left a permanent mark on humanity, acid attacks happen all over the world, but are most common in Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Uganda, according to the Acid Survivors Trust International (ASTI), based in London. 

One minute, Fatima was strolling down a street in Srinagar, India, holding her bag full of fruits for her ailing parents. A picture of all that’s right in the world.

(Note: All names have been changed because of legal matters/non-disclosure rights.)

Next, the 24-year-old Fatima was clutching her burning face, wailing in excruciating pain, and the person responsible for splashing her with acid was her ex-fiancé.

The attack seared her face, ears, neck, and eyes. Doctors who are treating her in the hospital say she might lose her eyesight.

Sajid Altaf, who is the culprit, was Fatima’s ex-fiancé. After Sajid and Fatima got engaged, the boy’s family would threaten the girl. Sajid forced Fatima to meet him every day and used to take her hard-earned money for his own expenses. The mental torture grew every passing day. When Fatima’s family knew about this, they soon dissolved the marriage.

The girl was facing humiliation every day from the boy and his family. One day, Sajid arrived at the place where the girl worked and started to beat her up continuously on the road.

The boy warned the girl if she didn’t marry him, he would take everything, and she won’t be able to marry anybody else.

Ever since her family freed her from an “unfaithful bond,” her ex-fiancé’s male ego was hurt and he became spiteful, vengeful, and even more vicious.

On the evening of February 1, the girl boarded a bus from the place of her work, and on her journey towards her home, she would repeatedly look outside the window to see the shades of her stalker.

She sensed what the boy had told her might happen. As she boarded off the bus, three people riding on a scooter, which also included her ex-fiancé, threw acid on her.

Laila Qureshi, a psychologist said, “After I met the survivor at the hospital, she’s a very strong woman; a fighter. I’m sure society will give this survivor a place back in society, not shamed into the shadows because of her appearance.”

She continued, ”A person who throws acid satisfies their male aggression and ego. A person tends to do this thing. This results in females being in fear, coming out of their homes. The families face the same anxiety. It’s a failure of the entire society and authorities who haven’t done much about it. The girl who survived the acid attack hasn’t seen her face in the mirror. Imagine how it will be for her; it’s a permanent trauma for her.”

A family member of Fatima’s said, “They were engaged for two years, but it didn’t work out. Even after their engagement was dissolved. Sajid [the culprit] kept demanding money and threatened her. Sajid’s family was also abusing us, all these things led to the acid attack on my sister [Fatima]. It was a complete show of aggression. My sister is not fine; she had to go under a major surgery on February 9, 2022, and she might lose her eyesight. We are not sure.”

Asma Irshad Khan, who is an advocate for gender issues at Jammu and Kashmir High Court said, “The patriarchal nature of society and the social contagion effect: Perpetrators are influenced by previous perpetrators, and they, in turn, influence the next perpetrators. The person who was accompanying Sajid in throwing the acid on Fatima is a 17-year-old boy — a juvenile according to the law. He’ll be out of prison after two years.”

The Jammu and Kashmir police arrested three accused and sealed a shop for the illegal sale of acid.

After the preliminary investigation and technical analysis, a Special Investigation Team (SIT) led by Superintendent of Police Raja Zuhaib said the victim, who is from Srinagar’s Eidgah area, had rejected the engagement proposal of the accused who started stalking her. “The accused [also from Srinagar] used to work in a medical shop.”

A large number of people held a demonstration in Srinagar’s Jehangir Chowk and demanded capital punishment for the attacker. Political leader Salman Sagar demanded “swift action against the culprits.”

People’s Conference termed the incident the “worst example of violence against women.” People’s Democratic Party leader Mohit Bhan said, “It was time we put an end to targeted abuse and harassment women face online and offline every day.”

Muteeba, a young college-going student is in trauma and fearful of going out of her house, “The whole society is in trauma with the recent spike of gender-based violence. I’m fearful of walking alone, having any of my male acquaintances on bad terms. This is getting worse and worse. For a few toxic males in society, I’m really considering distancing myself from every person who’s from the opposite gender. This shouldn’t happen in such a progressive statement.”

Most victims know who stole their faces. They had seen them, complained about them, and had plans to marry them.

60-year-old Naseema Nazir, recalls, “In our time there was no such incident. We never heard of acid attacks or any such heinous crimes. Society was very respectful of women and nobody thought of taking such steps.

Young men are very aggressive these days, have no patience, and they tend to take harsh actions without fear of the law. Authorities talk of progression and women’s rights but day by day crimes against women are increasing, and the entire society is failing every day.”

Last year on October 5, in Shopian District of Kashmir, a 17-year-old girl while locking the main gate of her house, all of a sudden, a young man threw acid on her face. And in an instant, she started screaming and rubbing her face.

The pedestrians soon rushed her to SMHS hospital in the capital city of Jammu and Kashmir. The acid almost dissolved one side of her face. She had to undergo surgery five times to regain her earlier facial appearance.

The 17-year-old’s father works as a sweeper in a local school and was unable to pay for his daughter’s expenses. According to the father, it has cost them around 4-5 lakh rupees so far, which were managed by social media donations.

The guidelines by the Supreme Court of India have given clear-cut directions to the government for compensation of three lakhs to acid attack victims.

India has the highest number of acid attacks globally every year, and despite the actions taken by the Indian government and the Supreme Court of India, the crime is on the rise.

This increase can be attributed to the patriarchal ideology that is prevalent in India and to India’s inadequate legal system, which does not deliver efficient remedies to the victims.  

This increase can be attributed to the patriarchal ideology that is prevalent in India and to India’s inadequate legal system, which does not deliver efficient remedies to the victims.  

Acid attacks have catastrophic effects on victims. They cause severe bodily pain and lifelong psychological trauma by shattering their primary physical/social identity in an instant, which often makes them a subject of pity.

Indian law does not contain an exhaustive legal definition for acid attacks, but the crime generally involves the throwing, spraying, and pouring of acid on a person’s body or face with an intention to cause bodily or facial disfigurement or death.

On December 11, 2015, a 22-year-old law student was grievously injured in the acid attack near Nowshera on the outskirts of Srinagar when she was on her way to her college.

It was only after a fortnight following the attack that the police arrested the accused duo Irshad Ahmad Wani, alias Sunny, and Muhammad Omar for their alleged involvement in the incident.

The police sought punishment for the accused on three counts under Sections 326-A (voluntary throwing acid to cause grievous injury),120-B-9 (criminal conspiracy), and 201 (destruction of evidence) of the Ranbir Penal Code (RPC).

According to data by National Crime Records Bureau (India), reports of 2014-2019, there has been an increase in Acid attacks. India has the highest number of acid attacks. Out of 1500 total cases reported globally every year, approximately 1000 are committed in India.

Then they had left them — an offense for which the exes punished them for life. A splash of acid and their faces and future was changed forever.

The Supreme Court’s Judgement on Selling Acid

Acid attacks
Photo courtesy of Khan Waqas & Basit Parray

The Supreme Court’s order, which was pronounced in 2013, instructed governments to issue acid-sale licenses to select retailers. Any outlet authorised to sell the volatile liquid was mandated to ask buyers for address proof and a photo identity card, so they can be traced in case of any incident.

Minors were not allowed to purchase acid, and details of the sale were supposed to be provided to the local police station within three days. This instruction is hardly seen anywhere, as acid is sold easily for mere 100 rupees.

This order is hardly followed anywhere as was seen in the recent acid attack on a 24-year-old girl where the accused had purchased the acid from his acquaintance, Saleem, a motor mechanic who works at international motors near Durga Nath in Dalgate area. The third accused person has also been arrested for his further examination.

“Legal process was also initiated for sealing this workshop as one of its employees had sold acidic material in violation of court guidelines. This shop was sealed with a proper procedure by the Executive Magistrate,” the police said.

“All shopkeepers in Srinagar are strictly instructed to follow court directions on sale of acid, failing which legal action will be initiated against them.”

Victims also suffer severe psychological trauma, primarily due to the pain and terror they undergo during an attack, and secondarily due to the realization that they have a permanently disfigured/disabled body (Law Commission of India, 2009).

This destruction of the victim’s primary physical and social identity exposes them to severe psychological diseases over their lifespan. Victims report suffering severe depression, insomnia, recurring nightmares, fear of another attack, headaches, and reluctance to face the world or participate in society (Law Commission of India, 2009).

Victims also experience increased anxiety, social and economic effects, along with becoming physically dependent on family and friends for essential daily activities, as the attack destroys their prospects of marriage or employment.

On top of that, victims often become a subject of pity, stares, and mockery due to scars and disfigurement (Law Commission of India, 2009), which ultimately results in the relinquishment of education and hope for the future.

Maleeha Sofi, a college student from Srinagar, “I have been seeing the domination of toxic muscularity since my childhood. It has never been good for our mental health; we have to bear the brunt of this domination, one way or another. There’s a fear in me due to the recent violence and attacks against women. We, women, have to be careful not to be on bad terms with a man with such aggression because there’s a chance he can harm me. The boy or a man throws acid on a girl and ruins her life by just making decisions for her own life.”

She continued, ”There’s a lack of awareness among young people about women rights and acceptance of them being independent of thoughts and not controlled by anybody”.

Since acid attacks have such severe consequences, victims need immediate remedies including compensation, so they can try to correct their physical disabilities with the help of corrective surgeries.

They also need access to swift justice and mental health care, so they can overcome their trauma. Medical and mental health care is quite expensive in India. And justice is rarely delivered because the processing of cases by Indian courts is extremely slow.

The Supreme Court of India directed the Law Commission of India to file a report on acid attacks and the laws dealing with them. Indian laws did not include the disfiguration of a woman in an acid attack as a separate crime, but included the crime in the categories of hurt, grievous hurt, or attempt to murder.

No official data on the number of acid attacks across India exists because the attacks were not registered by the Indian police as a separate offense.

“The acid is usually thrown at the victim’s face,” the Law Commission of India report noted. “The perpetrator wants to disfigure the victim and turn them into monsters.”

The Law Commission of India recommended treating acid attacks as a separate crime. In the aftermath of the gang rape of a student in Delhi in December, the Indian government established a committee headed by an eminent jurist and retired chief justice of the Supreme Court, J.S. Verma.

Justice Verma’s report also recommended creating a separate offence for acid attacks against women.

The Indian government accepted the recommendations and modified the criminal law to punish a person guilty of an acid attack with a minimum of 10 years in prison and a maximum of up to life imprisonment. It also added a fine of up to one million rupees, nearly $17,000 USD.

Khan Waqas is an independent multimedia journalist. Follow Khan on Instagram and Twitter.

Basit Parray is a published journalist. Follow Basit on Instagram and Twitter.