Acid Attacks on Women in India Prompt Protests

Haseena Hussain holds microphone, wearing dark glasses and covered by shawl i i

hide captionHaseena Hussain was attacked by her former boss when she did not accept his marriage proposal.

Scott Carney
Haseena Hussain holds microphone, wearing dark glasses and covered by shawl

Haseena Hussain was attacked by her former boss when she did not accept his marriage proposal.

Scott Carney
Woman with acid burns, close-up i i

hide captionWomen from CSAAAW, including this acid-attack survivor named Jayalakshmi, gathered on the steps of city hall in Bangalore, India, Aug. 12, to call for better prevention and prosecution of acid violence.

Scott Carney
Woman with acid burns, close-up

Women from CSAAAW, including this acid-attack survivor named Jayalakshmi, gathered on the steps of city hall in Bangalore, India, Aug. 12, to call for better prevention and prosecution of acid violence.

Scott Carney

Haseena Hussain was an attractive, upwardly mobile woman in Bangalore, India, with everything going for her. But it all changed in 1999, when she turned down her former boss' marriage proposal and he sought revenge by pouring two liters of concentrated hydrochloric acid over her body.

Hussain now works with the Campaign and Struggle Against Acid Attacks on Women (CSAAAW) to fight the surge of acid violence against women. Since 1999, the group has documented 61 such attacks. In the most recent case, a 22-year-old mother of four children was doused with acid and forced to drink a deadly concoction of a corrosive chemical and alcohol by her abusive husband in the city of Mysore.

CSAAAW has had some success in persuading the courts and police to take acid attacks more seriously. In a recent ruling, the sentence of Hussain's attacker was increased from five years to 14. But even that measure of justice rings hollow to Hussain, who had burns over most of her body and lost her nose and eyesight.

In that ruling, the judge also demanded that the government set up a fund of about $250,000 to cover the costs of reconstructive surgery that many of these women need. Survivors of the attacks say that the fund is only enough to care for two women — far short of the needs of the more than 60 survivors.

Even with excellent medical care, the best that most of these women can hope for is survival. If not treated immediately, they can lose their eyesight and spiral into depression. Many commit suicide.

Acid violence seems to be almost unique to South Asia, with most incidents occurring in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. Part of the reason is that acid is cheap and widely available. Many Indians use concentrated acid to sterilize their kitchens and bathrooms, as Americans would use bleach.

But the problem affects more than just the women represented by the campaign. A number of politicians, including the wife of the former prime minister of India, have had acid thrown at them. It is also commonplace in mob violence. Popular televised serials and films reinforce the idea by repeatedly portraying acid attacks.

Perhaps the most dangerous thing about acid attacks is the fear that they create. With just a few rupees, anyone can buy a weapon that can ruin another person's life in just a few seconds. For this reason, activists from CSAAAW will raise their voices until the government does something to regulate acid.

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