Anxious about her exam, 17-year-old Reshma Qureshi was walking to school with her sister when a group of four men including her brother-in-law splashed acid on her face. “I remember wondering why they would throw warm water on my face, but that thought lasted only for a heavenly fraction of a second… Even if I practised hard I could never again scream the way I did that day,” she recounts in her book Being Reshma.
There were almost 1500 acid attacks between 2014 and 2018, according to a report by India Today Data Intelligence Unit (DIU). For a country where over the counter sale of acid was banned in 2013, this number is frightening and alarming. Majority of these attacks happen because of spurned lovers, domestic abuse, dowry demands, and rejected proposals.
Sale of acid
In the landmark case of Laxmi v/s Union of India (2014), the Supreme Court directed shops selling acid must have a license and record the purchase with the buyer’s ID, the reason for purchase, and report to the police. Moreover, amendments were made to the criminal law introducing acid attack as a separate and heinous offence under the Indian Penal Code
Acid is still openly being sold in Indian markets. The cost ranges between 20-25 rupees. Actor Deepika Padukone, who plays the role of acid attack survivor Laxmi Agarwal in the movie Chhapaak, highlighted this in a video where her crew members successfully bought as many as 24 bottles of acid in just a day.
Acid attack first aid
In times where acid attacks have become increasingly commonplace, you must know what to do, should you witness such an incident. Immediate first aid can prove to be life-changing for victims. Of course, calling for medical assistance is the first thing you should do, but wondering how you can help next? Here are a few pointers to guide you:
Wash the wound
Water is your best friend. It helps dilute the acid, minimizing damage. Rinse the affected area with fresh and clean water or saline water as quickly as possible. Remember to protect yourself from splashes while you wash the burned area. Do this for up to an hour or till the pain subsides.
Prevent further infection
Gently remove any piece of clothing or jewellery that has come in contact. This will stop the acid from spreading and prevent any chemical reactions. Be very careful when you do this; if available, wear gloves, or cover your hands with a cloth to prevent burns.
Do not medicate
Do not apply any creams or lotions unless prescribed by the doctor. Avoid rubbing or wiping the affected areas as well. This can infect the wound or interfere with the treatment, making the situation worse.
Protect from contamination
Till emergency services arrive, protect the burns from contamination of any kind. If possible, wrap a sterilized gauze loosely around the burns to prevent dust and dirt from infecting the wound.
Recovery from an acid attack is a long and painful process comprising multiple surgeries. According to recent data, out of 1,273 cases of acid attack across the country compensation has been given to survivors in just 474 cases. It’s not just physical trauma, acid attacks have a severe impact on the psychological state of the survivor. From self-esteem issues to social stigma and alienation, acid attacks survivors need long-term support from friends and family, and even professional help. Several organizations such as the Atijeevan Foundation and Chhanv Foundation have been working relentlessly with the survivors, supporting and rehabilitating them.
(Edited by Neha Baid)