IT has been widely documented that women in this country are targets of acid crimes for rejecting marriage proposals, for arousing jealousy among relatives, or, in some way or the other, for having provoked patriarchy. In essence, such heinous attacks are largely based on the notion of male ownership of women’s bodies and of control over their actions in conservative communities. The reality that this unforgivable crime is more often than not perpetrated by male relatives is underscored by Thursday’s shocking acid attack on three students from the University of Gujrat. The three students, who included two sisters, suffered severe burns when they were attacked by three men at a bus stop — one of the alleged perpetrators was the sisters’ maternal uncle, an Islamabad police official; the other two worked for a government development authority. This and other instances of acid crimes show that destroying a woman’s face and body for perceived misdemeanours is intended as revenge and punishment, and intentionally targets the identity and individuality of victims. This is all the more reason why Punjab’s chief minister must immediately ensure that severe punishment under the law is awarded to those guilty of such brazen attacks, most of which are concentrated in the province. Moreover, the government should heed growing calls to regulate acid sales. In the long term, however, curtailing acid crimes requires removing entrenched misogynistic attitudes that deprive women even of their right to life. One way is to disseminate information through sustained campaigning on gender equality.

Used as an inexpensive weapon of choice, acid causes severe physical disfigurement leading to extreme psychological and physical trauma. The shocking nature of this crime alone demands the strictest punishment so that emboldened regressive elements do not act with impunity. However, statistics provide evidence to the contrary. With at least 400 annual acid attacks reported by rights organisations, and 80pc of them targeting women, the country’s anti-acid crime legislation has failed as a deterrent in the seven years since it was enacted. This is a damning reflection of the state’s apathy when it comes to the implementation of a watertight law that stipulates that acid crime is non-compoundable with imprisonment ranging from 14 years to life and a minimum fine of Rs1m as punishment. Notwithstanding philanthropic rehabilitation initiatives, the state itself has no official projects to financially compensate and rehabilitate burn victims. Public-private initiatives are direly needed to change societal norms that permit men and boys to believe this crime is acceptable behaviour.

Published in Dawn, April 21st, 2018

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