Acid attack victims find no help online, during or after their attack and treatment. Experts say making an online platform for survivors would encourage them to normalise their lives in more than one way.
Acid attack survivors have trouble registering cases and applying for compensation because of a lack of online facilities. Experts say an official online platform would help guide victims better in terms of treatment, compensation, and healing. All that is available on the acid attack compensation website is a photograph of an applicatioin form that victims have to access from an office.
Ritu, 27, an acid attack survivor from Haryana who works with the acid attack NGO Sheroes was burnt in 2012 when she was 17 years old. She said, “It took me two years to get back into society after other people found me and helped me. I did not know where to go, what to do, which government department to speak with. Making these online would have helped me heal quicker as I would have been guided better.” Ritu said she still has not received compensation, and it took her two years to join back into society because initially, functioning offline was difficult for her. “People only read it in newspapers and social media and move on, people do not talk about it and do something about it on a larger scale. An online platform which has details for treatment, compensation, psychological help, and so on would be very helpful for us,” she said.
Corinne Kumar, from Vimochana, a women’s rights NGO, said, “The lockdown had harrowing effects on abused women, in general. For acid attack victims, it was worse because they could not file complaints or get proper treatment. There is very little online help available.”
Sathya, who works at the Burns Ward at Victoria Hospital and also is a member of the acid attack NGO, Aweksha, said that during lockdown they could not work as their victims found no help online for registering cases or applying for compensation. “Most hospitals were packed with COVID-19 patients while big hospitals were running on limited staff. The victims were sent to smaller district hospitals for treatment and checkup.”
She added that following up with acid attack victims during and after the COVID-19 lockdown has still not been possible. “Some did not register at hospitals or police stations properly, some moved away, some are not confident to come out and speak now, since they did not or could not speak back then. We are still trying to follow up on most of them but it’s been difficult. Online facilities for victims are perhaps a possible solution; from registering to tracking and following up, with online facilities, it would have been easier.”
Prof. Swati Ghosh, Director of the Centre for Women Studies, Rabindra Bharati University said that most acid attacks happen in public spaces, which creates a social impact on the survivors. “Though there can be no substitute for filing a first information report (FIR), other forms of the procedure that an acid attack victim has to follow should be made online.”
In addition, she believes that online facilities would allow the victim to be guided better in terms of treatment, compensation, schemes, and even financial aid. “It is very important to have online facilities as right now, from the government’s side, welfare assistance doesn’t exist at all when it comes to acid attack cases.” She added that it is important to establish a link between the victim and other spheres of society which is most conveniently done online. “This is exactly what COVID-19 has taught us.”
A report by Action Aid, an international women’s NGO, ranks India highest in the world in acid attack cases. The report further states that acid attack cases most often go unreported because victims fear retaliation from their attackers. It notes that the aim of acid attack is disfigurement, which is deliberately made for a “a public mark of shame” so the victims social life gets limited and it is difficult for the victim to get married or get employment.
Prof. Ghosh said that online employment of acid attack victims for work from home (WFH) jobs can also make a big difference to their lives. “Often the working women do not want to go back to their workplace because of fear of judgement. There should be some online forum or platform where the women can find WFH employment. Other than government monetary aid, there should be some scheme for this, as well.” She concluded that such a platform should also have psychological and emotional help available on it.
Data show that the number of cases during COVID-19 years is less in Karnataka, as well as throughout India. A Ministry of Home Affairs report notes seven acid attack cases in Karnataka in 2018 and 2019; however, the first year of COVID-19, 2021 saw five cases. All over, in 2018 and 2019, India reported 228 and 249 cases, respectively. However, 2020 saw 182 cases.