Acid Attacks in India. Should Strict Liability be the norm?
An analysis from the strict liability perspective of the acid attack clause in the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 of India
Research Paper (postgraduate) 2014 16 Pages
Table of Contents
Ravinder Singh v. State of Haryana
Gulab Sahiblal Shaikh v. The State of Maharashtra
Marepally Venkata Sree Nagesh v. State of Andhra Pradesh
Balu v. State (represented by the Inspector of police)
Devanand v. The State
Ramesh Dey and ors. v. State of West Bengal
Ram Charittar and Anr. etc. v. State of Uttar Pradesh etc.
Awadhesh Roy v. State of Jharkhand
State (Delhi Administration) v. Mewa Singh
Acid Attack and Strict Liability
The Conclusion: Should it be a strict liability?
The term ‘acid attack’ is a colloquial term for the depiction of the heinous offence that Section 326A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 defines:-
“326A. Whoever causes permanent or partial damage or deformity to, or burns or maims or disfigures or disables, any part or parts of the body of a person or causes grievous hurt by throwing acid on or by administering acid to that person, or by using any other means with the intention of causing or with the knowledge that he is likely to cause such injury or hurt, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which shall not be less than ten years but which may extend to imprisonment for life, and with fine:
Provided that such fine shall be just and reasonable to meet the medical expenses of the treatment of the victim:
Provided further that any fine imposed under this section shall be paid to the victim.
Explanation 1.—For the purposes of section 326A and this section, "acid" includes any substance which has acidic or corrosive character or burning nature, that is capable of causing bodily injury leading to scars or disfigurement or temporary or permanent disability.
Explanation 2.— For the purposes of section 326A and this section, permanent or partial damage or deformity shall not be required to be irreversible.”
This section has been recently introduced vide the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 and was not there as a statutory provision before 2013. This has happened due to the huge outcry over the poor position of law relating to women after the gross injustice that happened in the Nirbhaya rape case trial. This amendment to the laws making them more stringent was a welcome move, and India has finally kept up its pace with the world on criminal law, however, leaving ample room for improvement.
It is pertinent to note that, although the law is new, this crime is anything but a recent one. This crime has gone unprosecuted for decades altogether now with voices of women being silenced forever.
Acid attack, is the act of throwing corrosive material on the body of a person with the intent to disfigure, grievously hurt or kill the person. The most common consequence of acid attack is blindness, and often death. The acid attack victim is not only physically scarred perpetually, but shattered socially and economically – the victims are not accepted by society, albeit the perpetrators of the crime are. The victim is left emotionally numb in most cases – the acid not only eats through the skin, but it eats away the soul forever. The acid attacks are a gruesome crime, one treated to be of the most violent category, often equated with rape. The scar that this leaves is a permanent one, and this is a social pathology that can hardly be treated by legislation if the mind-set of the people do not change. Bangladesh tops by number of acid attacks reported, while India did not even have reported acid attack incidents as it was not an offence before 2013. The statistics show a very low mortality rate for acid attack victims, but most of them are emotionally dead inside eventually when they are rejected by society. But that societal rejection is considered an obstacle only recently, because before 2013, even law disregarded them. In India, an exceptionally hostile environment prevails with regard to crimes against women, and India consistently gives enough reported incidents to shamelessly make it to the top-ten unsafe countries for women, even when the legal provision for acid attack was not present.
How well has the judiciary appreciated the heinousness of the crime? Let us see for ourselves with cases and their decisions from various courts around the country, including the Supreme Court of India.
Ravinder Singh v. State of Haryana
This case concerns an acid attack case where upon the victim, an unfortunate girl of 19, was ingested with acid, while on a train, pinning her to the ground. Then when the heinous act was done by all the accused, her gold jhumkas were removed and she was thrown out into the railway tracks in between two railway stations. This was all on the basis of a mere suspicion of an extra-marital affair, without any proof at all. Her statement was recorded by the doctor before she eventually succumbed to her injuries. The facts were narrated by an approver.
The charges were filed under 316, 307, 326, 324, 328 and 302 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, read with Section 34 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. Acid Attack was long suppressed as a legal wrong, even when India was one of the worst affected by the same that is why, till 2013 the offence was put under the title of ‘grievous hurt’. However, after 2013, things have changed, as the offence is separate and even victim compensation has been provided for.
The facts peak of a heinous crime on an innocent lady, just on the vague assumption that she had been unfaithful to her husband. The trial court had erred in its findings as there was question of admissibility of evidence. The trial court had ruled out other important evidence against the accused when other independent witness had lacunae in their testimonial in court. Undue influence of the court may have been a cause to cause such a gross injustice overlooking all the evidence that was presented in front of him. The Hon’ble Supreme Court was right in convicting the accused and upholding the interests of justice. The Supreme Court has decided on many facts and circumstances of the case, and has gone into admissibility of evidence for the most part.
Gulab Sahiblal Shaikh v. The State of Maharashtra
This case concerns an acid attack victim from Maharashtra, who in 1998, was a Muslim woman. She had refused to give-in to the constant demand of money by her brother-in-law. As a consequence, acid was poured on her by him, while she was holding her two-and-a-half year old baby. The gruesome crime cost both her baby and her to lose their eyesight, and she herself suffered burn injuries on her face, left hand, left breast and the torso. Then, she was set on fire, and lit up live for having not succumbed to her brother-in-law’s demands. The Court convicted the accused of murder under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code and a meagre fine of ₹1,000/- and ₹5,000/- under Section 326 for the victim and her son. Though the prosecutrix pleaded, the Judge failed to appreciate the injustice being done to the victim’s child with the meagre amount of compensation being paid to them for taking away their lives through taking away the child’s eyes. The issue of victim compensation has been discussed further in the article.
 Gardiner Harris, ‘Clashes Break Out in India at a Protest Over a Rape Case’, (The New York Times, 22 Dec. 2009) < http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/23/world/asia/in-india-demonstrators-and-police-clash-at-protest-over-rape.html?_r=0> accessed 15:27 UTC on 17-08-2014
 See State Through Reference and ors. v. Ram Singh and ors., 2014 Indlaw DEL 819
 Hoomah Shah, ‘Brutality by Acid: Utilizing Bangladesh as a Model to Fight Acid Violence in Pakistan’,  26 WIS. INT’L L.J. 1172, 1173 (citing Leela Jacinto, ‘Acid Attacks: A Brutal Crime of Passion, Victims of Acid Attacks Battle to Beat the System’, ABC News television broadcast 3 Sept., 2003))
 Ibid. Page 1174.
 R.N. Karmakar, ‘Forensic Medicine and Toxicology’,  Academic Publishers. ISBN 81-87504-69-2
 L. M. Taylor, ‘Saving Face: Acid Attack Laws After the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women’,  Ga. Journal Int'l & Comp. Law, 29,395-419
 Peter B Olaitan; Bernard C. Jiburum, ‘Chemical injuries from assaults: An increasing trend in a developing country’,  Indian Journal Of Plastic Surgery 41 (1): 20–23
 See report by Trust.org, Thomson Reuters Foundation, ‘World’s most dangerous countries for women’, <http://www.trust.org/documents/2011-women-poll-results.pdf> accessed 16:03 UTC on 17-08-2014
 The Indian Penal Code 1860, s. 316: Causing death of quick unborn child by act amounting to culpable homicide
 The Indian Penal Code 1860, s. 307: Attempt to murder
 The Indian Penal Code 1860, s. 326: Voluntarily causing grievous hurt by dangerous weapons or means
 The Indian Penal Code 1860, s. 324: Voluntarily causing hurt by dangerous weapons or means
 The Indian Penal Code 1860, s. 328: Causing hurt by means of poison, etc., with intent to commit an offence
 The Indian Penal Code 1860, s. 302: Punishment for Murder
 The Indian Penal Code 1860, s. 34: Acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention
 Gulab Sahiblal Shaikh v. The State of Maharashtra, 1998 Bom CR(Cri)