AMONG the few crimes considered worse than murder is throwing acid on someone, scarring them physically and emotionally for life. In a landmark judgement in 2019, the Supreme Court described acid attacks as a “bigger crime than murder”. In the latest instance, a woman was attacked with acid in Lahore when she refused a proposal of marriage. The woman worked as domestic help and was accosted by the attacker when walking to her place of employment. According to the police, the suspect had threatened the woman before as well. In a case last August, a man and a woman threw acid on two women in Karachi over a property dispute. This is a deeply sadistic act, where the perpetrator’s motive is to cause the victim lifelong pain and emotional trauma. And it is no surprise that, given the intensely patriarchal structure of our society, the main victims are women who choose to exercise their free will to either reject a marriage proposal or defy some other form of male dominance. Though the frequency of such abhorrent attacks has reduced somewhat in recent years, they occur often enough, mainly because the state does not have clear laws to punish the perpetrators. They are also easier to carry out since corrosive substances are easily available for sale and the attack itself does not require a lot of force or precision.

According to independent estimates, between 1994 and 2018 some 9,340 people fell victim to acid attacks in the country. Although the Supreme Court threw out an acquittal plea of an attacker despite ‘forgiveness’ from his victim, the Acid and Burn Crime Bill, 2017, has yet to become law. The delay is incomprehensible as most perpetrators are able to slip through the many cracks in the country’s judicial system. The law must be passed and the authorities must also strictly regulate the sale of corrosive substances. According to the Supreme Court judgement, “Acid attack offenders do not deserve any clemency.” Still we await a law.

Published in Dawn, June 10th, 2021

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