With International Woman’s Day coming up on Saturday, a reminder was given Friday morning of the violence that some women are subjected to around the world, particularly among acid attack victims. Reuters journalist, Amit Ganguly, delivered a piece early Friday that brings attention to the brutal acid attacks suffered by women in India who reject their suitors, as did 21-year-old Sapna. Just six months ago, Sapna’s face was scarred by acid that was thrown at her after having denied a relative’s proposal to marry.
Sapna one of many acid attack victims. From 2010 to 2012, the number of reported acid attack cases in India was 225; that is a remarkable reduction from 2002 when 496 people were attacked in that year alone. As an act of revenge, acid attacks are experienced mostly by women and children as way of permanently damaging and dishonoring individuals who have encourage some kind of familial or social resentment. 80 percent of attacks, however, have occurred as an outraged response from a man whose marriage proposal had been rejected. As was the case for Sapna.
While the physical, psychological and emotional cost of suffering acid trauma is incalculable, the actual cost of surgery and medication to mend the resulting disfigurement totals around 3.5 million rupees, or close to $57,000 USD. Sapna, who comes from a low-middle class family, was supposed to receive 300,000 rupees ($4,800) from the Delhi government to help offset the medical cost’s of treating her scars. She had been given 100,000 rupees ($1,600) within 15 days of the attack, but has not received any more of her allotment from the government since. The subsidized amount that is supposed to be offered by the government does not offset much of the costs especially considering that most victims never receive the full amount.
Ashish Shukla, a journalist and co-founder of the Stop Acid Attacks organization, argues that for women in India who suffer acid violence, while it is within a citizens right to receive medical aid and financial compensation, most women and families are unaware of that fact.
The Stop Acid Attacks organization was founded as a campaign against acid violence, and has dedicated themselves to promoting the health, education, and rights of women in India. Their fundraising efforts have allowed them to raise about $16,000 so far. They are one of two organizations throughout the world who are dedicated to the cause of reducing acid violence. The other organization, Acid Survivors Trust International, is based in London and have a much more broad focus in trying to fight acid attacks that take place throughout countries like Bangladesh, Cambodia, Uganda, Pakistan, Nepal and India as well. Both organization’s website share information, acid violence history, graphic images of the acid burn victims and share their stories.
Acid violence victims like Sapna can find support through these organizations, and representation through individual advocates who fight against acid attacks on their behalf. One such individual is 25-year-old Laxmi, who was attacked in 2005 when she was just 16, has taken it up herself to lead her own campaign in the movement to fight acid attacks, and has been a fierce advocate. In the years since her attack, Laxmi has been the face of the movement, having appeared for television interviews, and sought out over 27,000 signatures to control acid sales. Where most victims hide their face because of trauma, Laxmi was courageous in taking a public stand against acid violence. Such courage has led her to be successful in petitioning the Supreme Court to order the Indian Government to regulate the sale of acid and to support women in successfully prosecuting their attackers.
Laxmi, who wrote a poem in which she defies and bravely condemns her attackers, received the International Women of Courage Award, from US First Lady Michelle Obama on Wednesday, along with nine other women. Laxmi’s honor was given for advocating on behalf of the Indian women who have suffered the brutality of acid violence. The First Lady expressed that Laxmi, and the nine other women honored for their activism, have created a ripple effect that is spreading around the world, and that the experiences of these women teach us, “that if a woman can fight torture and oppression…surely we can summon a fraction of their bravery in our own lives and communities.” The women were honored with the award for having demonstrated considerable bravery and leadership throughout the world, advocating for human rights, peace, justice, and women’s rights.
By Natalia Sanchez