Acid Attacks: Patriarchy’s Assault on Article 21

Acid Attacks: Patriarchy’s Assault on Article 21

Violence is not confined to social and political institutions, but language itself is a gigantic instrument to justify brutal forms of violence

Women are half the world’s population and violence against women is a world-wide phenomenon. Violence is perpetrated against women in various forms. History bears testimony to the fact that women have been the most oppressed section of society. The ‘othering’ of women has been canonised through distorted historical facts and myths to justify oppressive social norms and customs that clog her freedom, so that the illegitimate power of patriarchy can be legitimised and women can follow blindly the commandments of men.
According to Harvey and Gow, “History of violence against women is tied to the history of women being viewed as property and a gender role assigned to be subservient to men”. It is because of this oppressive and brutal culture she is not in a position to live a dignified and honourable life. Violence can’t be confined to social and political institutions, but language itself is a gigantic instrument to justify brutal forms of violence. Even our mental setup is biased to the extent that we consider women’s dress style as entirely responsible for their humiliation and degradation.
Girls from very childhood are encouraged and rewarded for internalising ‘ feminine’ traits, such s submissiveness, tenderness, modesty, patience, etc. Whereas, boys are encouraged to be assertive, dominating, aggressive, competitive and ambitious. Hence a boy acquires masculinity while a girl acquires femininity in the process. Jese Bernard argues that everyday life especially for children under age five is divided into a ‘pink world’ for girls and a ‘blue world’ for boys. This pink world encourages girls to be emotional and submissive, while the blue world encourages boys to be assertive and independent. For example, dish cleaner and doll-like real babies are bought for girls, reinforcing the idea of feminity as about being a wife and mother who cares for others. On the other hand, trains, cars, tools and heroic figures present a masculine life centred on active work and adventure. Further, the process of reward and punishments tends to reinforce the idea of masculinity and femininity among young children. For example, a boy is rewarded for displaying risk-taking adventurous behaviour, while a girl is discouraged against such behaviour.
Violence against women is taking place in Jammu and Kashmir on a large scale. It is not only happening within the families but also outside the families. Studies carried out regarding violence against women reveal that more than 40%of women are physically or mentally abused by their husband or by their in-laws. Most of the reasons for violence against women are dowry, interference by in-laws, misunderstanding between husband and wife, anger over the giving of birth to girls, etc. The Women’s Commission in Jammu and Kashmir registers 1600 to 1700 cases every year and the majority of the cases come from Kashmir valley. Harassment by in-laws is one of the main reasons for female suicide in Jammu and Kashmir and even dowry plays a significant role in women committing suicide. In October 2017, the Govt of Jammu and Kashmir launched a women’s helpline number (181) to provide round-the-clock assistance to women in distress. According to the data provided by the women helpline number (181), a total of 922 cases of violence against women have been registered between April and September 2020. Purina Dhar, manager at the women helpline number, said that on average her team registers 10 cases every day.
The recent acid attack on a 24-year-old woman in Kashmir’s Srinagar followed a gruesome attack on a girl a couple of months before in Kashmir’s Shopian district. In 2013 the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, was passed by the legislature, and Section 326A and Section 326B inserted under the Indian Penal Code to particularly deal with cases of acid attacks. This modification included punishment for an attempt to attack, the pre-planning or administering of the act, and the compensation to be awarded to the victims. The compensation to the victim also included free medical treatment. Also, the right of private defence under Section 100 of the Indian Penal Code was extended. But are these laws successful?
The laws which were formed to deal with acid attacks were a welcome step by the judiciary, but there was no significant drop in the number of acid attack cases in India. The laws focused mainly on punishing the convicts rather than eliminating this problem or preventing the attacks. Just framing the laws is not a solution; for a law to be successful, it needs proper implementation. The Indian judicial system is always overloaded with cases. So, it takes years for one case to be solved. If there is an acid attack, and the victim files a case to get the convict punished and get compensation for the treatment, then it will take at least two to three years or more than that to get the accused punished and receive the compensation. Till then the victim must go through various kinds of trauma, pain, and has to live with that disfigured body till she receives the compensation. This is why these laws are not so useful in fighting this problem. There continues to be a black stain over Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, which says, “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.”
‘Life’ in Article 21 of the Constitution is not simply the physical act of breathing. It does not connote mere animal sensibility or continued struggle through life. It has a much broader meaning, including the right to live with dignity, right to livelihood, right to health, right to pollution-free air, etc. In Kharak Singh v. State of Uttar Pradesh, the Supreme Court noted and held: “By the term ‘life’ as here used, something more is meant than mere animal existence. The inhibition against its deprivation extends to all those limbs and faculties by which life is enjoyed. The provision equally prohibits the mutilation of the body by amputation of an armoured leg or the pulling out of an eye, or the destruction of any other organ of the body through which the soul communicates with the outer world.”

Mir Tajamul Islam is studying for a Bachelor’s degree at the School of Law, University of Kashmir. [email protected]
Aarif Rashid Malik has done his Masters in Political Science from the University of Kashmir. [email protected]

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