The recent acid attack on a young girl in Srinagar was condemned by all sections of the society in Kashmir. Several political and non-political organizations including business bodies were quick to condemn the attack. Youth groups were also seen staging a sit-in against the horrific incident while some called the attack a ‘blot on the face of the society’. Such incidents should be condemned in harshest words but mere condemnations are not enough. Despite a Supreme Court ruling, acid can easily be procured in Kashmir just like powerful drugs such as antibiotics and steroids that are otherwise not to be sold without prescriptions. Post the arrest of three persons on Wednesday a day after a girl was attacked with acid in Eidgah area of Srinagar, the same issue came to the fore. The culprits had been able to procure acid very easily. It further came to the fore that the accused had purchased acid from a motor mechanic, who works at the International Motors near Durga Nag, Dal Gate area. An official statement said a legal process was also initiated for sealing of the said workshop as one of its employees had sold acidic material in violation of the Supreme Court guidelines. While the shop has already been sealed by the Executive Magistrate, the authorities need to properly implement the Supreme Court guidelines in this regard. The guidelines are:
(a) Banning over the counter sale of acid/ corrosives unless the seller maintains a logbook/ register recording the sale of acid which will contain the details of the person(s) to whom acid(s) is/are sold and the quantity sold. The log/register shall also contain the address of the person to whom it is sold.
(b) A sale will be made only when the buyer produces a photo ID issued by the Government which also has the address of the person and proves that he/ she is above 18 years of age.
(c) The logbook/ register should also specify the reason/purpose for procuring acid.
(d) All stocks of acid must be declared by the seller with the concerned Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM) within 15 days and in case of undeclared stock of acid, it will be open to the concerned SDM to confiscate the stock and suitably impose a fine on such seller up to Rs. 50,000/-.
(e) The concerned SDM may impose a fine up to Rs.50,000/- on any person who commits breach of any of the above directions. Educational institutions, research laboratories, hospitals, Government Departments and the departments of Public Sector Undertakings, who are required to keep and store acid/ corrosive shall maintain a register of usage of acid and the same shall be filed with the concerned SDM.
(f) A person shall be made accountable for the possession and safe keeping of acid in their premises. The acid shall be stored under the supervision of this person and there shall be compulsory checking of the students/ personnel leaving the laboratories/place of storage where acid is used.
But, are these guidelines followed? Unfortunately, most of the time, young women are victims of acid attacks. It has been observed that when a woman rejects the advances of a man, she has become a victim of acid attack. In case of the recent incident in Srinagar, the accused as per the police was having an ‘interest in the girl’. And since she rejected his engagement proposal, he had been stalking her. The arrested accused had taken note of the work timings of the girl long before this attack. The accused used to work at a medical shop and in the evening of February 1, 2022, he took a break from work. Riding a scooty towards the place where the girl used to work along with a co-accused, he chased the victim. And while the young lady was returning home, acid was thrown on her.
Had the accused not been able to procure acid, the attack could have been avoided. Besides the directions on sale of acid, the Supreme Court guidelines also apply to the government. “All the States/ UTs are advised to take immediate steps to implement the measures for reduction of acid attacks and treatment and rehabilitation of acid attack survivors as well as any other measure as may be deemed fit,” the court order states. Now, the local authorities have asked all shopkeepers in Srinagar to strictly follow the Supreme Court directions on sale of acid failing which legal action will be initiated against them. The authorities have also stated that a special drive will be started in this regard shortly in coordination with the district administration.
At the same time, it is imperative that civil society too plays a role. The business bodies too have issued statements condemning the Srinagar acid attack. However, the business heads have to ensure that shopkeepers do not sell acid freely in violation of the Supreme Court guidelines. At the same time, the Supreme Court has also issued clear guidelines regarding the medical treatment of the acid victim as the cost of treatment after an attack is very high. All central government hospitals and establishments had already been directed to treat acid attack victims free of cost. As In addition, private hospitals which have availed the facility of concessional land for setting up the hospital as per the court guidelines ‘could also be persuaded to earmark 1-2 beds for treatment of underprivileged victims of acid attacks which the State Government can identify for treatment’. Acid attacks can be stopped only when the government along with the civil society play a proactive role. And above all, sale of acid in violation of Supreme Court guidelines has to stop.