FEW crimes are more heinous than acid attacks. In a matter of seconds, the burning substance permanently disfigures victims and alters the quality of their lives. This was recently acknowledged by Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa when he dismissed an acquittal plea by an acid attack culprit, terming the offence ‘worse than murder’. Even though the survivor had forgiven the offender — under what circumstances, we do not know — the chief justice made it clear that such crimes deserve no clemency in the eyes of the law. The Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention Act, 2011, condemns perpetrators to life imprisonment and also penalises unauthorised sellers with fines and jail sentences of one to two years. Since the passing of such legislation, there has been a noted drop in the number of acid attacks in the country — though the appalling crime has still not been eliminated. On July 12, just one day after the landmark Supreme Court judgement, a man in Quetta was arrested for throwing acid on his colleague. While there are several instances of attacks on men, the victims and survivors of acid attacks in Pakistan are disproportionately women, largely hailing from south and central Punjab. The attacks are typically carried out by rejected suitors and former partners reasserting their warped sense of control by brutally taking away an intrinsic part of the woman’s identity, her right to make her own decisions, and simply pursue her own path to happiness.

Powerful men nursing bruised egos take revenge on women when spurned, sometimes following years of physical and psychological abuse. Who can forget the tragic, short life of Fakhra Younus, who was allegedly attacked by her husband, a former MPA? Many perpetrators are able to escape their punishment due to loopholes in the law. Since the victims are typically known to the attackers, and already in a vulnerable position, they forgive them due to financial constraints or under coercion. Undoubtedly, Justice Khosa’s words will be remembered as a milestone in the fight to eliminate this evil from our society for good.

Published in Dawn, July 15th, 2019

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