The incidence of acid attacks on girls and young women is increasing in India. Criminals committing this heinous act are emboldened because they enjoy virtual impunity.
In most cases they are either not identified and brought to justice or, because of inadequate laws, they get light punishment. Because there is no specific law against acid throwing these people are proceeded against for merely causing injury.
That this is a legal anomaly is quite clear. A two-judge bench of the Supreme Court has ruled that the government must act to change this status. The honourable judges have rightly observed that acid attacks are worse than death for victims whose entire life is ruined. The punishment must be commensurate with the severity of the crime.
If one looks at individual instances of attacks they invariably turn out to be cruel displays of male aggression and foolish machismo. Men spurned by women who do not want their attention take it out on the defenceless young women by disfiguring them for life and causing immense harm in several ways, including physical and emotional pain. The emotional wound never heals even after decades of the attack.
In what is one of the finest examples of judicial initiative, the learned judges have not only asked for fresh legislation, but demanded reimbursement of cost of treatment and compensation from government for the traumatic injury.
Till the time such law is created, aggressors should not be allowed to get off lightly. The noble judges are capable enough to interpret existing laws in a way that allows them to hang these criminals.
One instance of such judicial approach comes from a series of judgments by courts in the United States in the 70s and 80s when they awarded 150 years to 250 years prison terms to individual criminals. At that time average life expectancy in the US was around 70 years. So what did those sentences mean? Nothing, except judicial outrage. Also, the judges ensured that the criminal carrying a 200-year prison term would never come alive from jail.g