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ACID ATTACK: A BURNING ISSUE

Trauma experienced by Survivors

Subjection of women to sexual violence, from eve-teasing to aggressive forms of sexual
violence has been on a rise. One such form of sexual violence is acid attack- “intentional act
of throwing acid on an individual with the intent of harming, torturing, disfiguring, injuring,
or killing them” (Mittal, Singh & Verma, 2020). Acid attack is a heinous crime which has a
specific gender dimension in countries like India. In India, at least one case of acid attack
occurs every day. The number of acid attack incidents reported in the year 2018 were 228,
according to National Crime Bureau (NCRB). However, the country with the most number of
acid attacks has the least number of convictions – less than 5 percent.
The possible reason may be a rejection of love or marriage proposals, refusal to pay dowry,
rejection of sexual approach, property or family disputes. The result of acid attack is
unbearable physical pain, along with psychological trauma, and socio-economic
consequences because of serval surgeries and the legal proceedings and make the life of
victims worse than death. These attacks are not only a brutal act but also a human rights
violation.
The research and experiences shared by acid attack survivors have highlighted that the
impact of this violence is multifold. Recovering from the physical wounds is one leg of the
journey, the attack leads to traumatic and deep psychological impact on survivor’s mental
and emotional well-being. Research findings have revealed that survivors showed high levels
of psychological distress including social anxiety and avoidance, anxiety, depression and
post-traumatic stress (Mannan et al., 2006). They face serious issues related to social
isolation, primarily due to the stigma associated with the assault and physical appearance of
the survivors (Qazi et al., 2019). Gilbert et al. (2004) reported that Asian women believe that
their actions can bring shame and honor to the family. Victims of acid attack also experience
hopelessness at times, particularly about their future life. Some victims felt hopeless about
finding a job, prospects of marriage or about life in general. These feelings of self-blame,
low self-esteem, helplessness and hopelessness can ultimately lead to increased suicidal
ideation among the survivors.
Most of these post-assault negative experiences are linked to the stigma, labelling, isolation,
exclusion, and discrimination meted out to the survivors by the society at large. An
individual who has encountered facial disfigurement due to acid attack faces stigmatization,
in employment and social situations, they are discriminated against and isolated from
society, and there is very little chance of marriage for them according to the society. Victims
often tend to blame themselves for their plight even though the situation was not in their
control. The stigmatization leads to poor social functioning and isolation from society and
family.
The physical and psychological aftermath of an acid attack severely affects the lives of the
survivors, and given that these attacks are not accidental, but are deliberately caused with
an intent to disfigure and harm the person, it is essential to understand how these survivors
cope with their conditions. Different social support systems can play a significant role in

helping the survivors of acid attack cope successfully. Various coping strategies are
employed at different stages of recovery process, including religious coping (turning to God
for strength, praying frequently); avoidance-based coping to deal with the ‘threatened
identity’; emotion-focused coping to deal with the extreme negative feelings and problem-
focused coping mostly when they come out of their struggles and move towards
betterment. These strategies can help survivors incorporate the disfigurement into their
overall self-concept to lead a better life and regain a sense of normalcy and a sense of
connection.
However, efforts have to be made at a larger structural level as well for providing support to
the survivors. Along with societal stigma and psychological difficulties, survivors have to face
medical, legal and financial hurdles as well. The actual statistics may indicate severe under-
reporting and a larger number of survivors having chosen to remain anonymous due to
social stigma (Siddika & Baruah, 2017). Various government and civil society interventions
have come forward. Ria Sharma’s non-governmental organisation (NGO) Make Love Not
Scars; Sahas Foundation, an NGO founded by survivor Daulat Bi Khan; and the “Stop Acid
Attacks” campaign (2013) by Chhanv Foundation, which led to the subsequent formation of
Cafe Sheroes Hangouts to provide employment to survivors. Thus the issue of acid attack
requires a holistic approach inclusive of treatment, rehabilitation, trauma and legal
counselling.

References:
Gupta, P. (2020, January 16). India Is Failing Acid Attack Survivors, Here Is The Data.
Retrieved January 04, 2021, from https://www.shethepeople.tv/top-stories/issues/india-
acid-attacks-survivors-data/
Mannan, A., Ghani, S., Clarke, A., White, P., Salmanta, S., & Butler, P. (2006). Psychosocial
outcomes derived from an acid burned population in Bangladesh, and comparison with
Western norms. Burns, 32(2), 235-241. doi:10.1016/j.burns.2005.08.027
Mittal, S., Singh, T., & Verma, S. K. (2020). Role of Psychological Makeup in Psychological
Rehabilitation of Acid Attack Victims. Journal of Interpersonal Violence,
088626052090510. doi:10.1177/0886260520905100
Qazi, R., Khan, S., Akhtar, T., & Butt, T. A. (2019). PSYCHOSOCIAL CORRELATES OF
SUICIDAL IDEATION IN ACID ATTACK SURVIVORS. Pak J Physiol, (15-4).
Ramesh, M. (2020, January 10). India World No 1 in Acid Attacks – With Least Convictions.
Retrieved January 04, 2021, from https://www.thequint.com/news/india/india-most-
acid-attacks-in-world

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