Home Podumentary

Behind the Scars: Acid Attack Survivors' Battle for Justice

The Ongoing Struggle for Justice and Healing in the Lives of Acid Attack Victims

By The Probe Staff
New Update

In a world where courage confronts cruelty, we delve into the harrowing stories of survivors who have faced one of the most vicious forms of violence—acid attacks. These brave acid attack victims courageously share their traumatic experiences and heart-wrenching ordeals. We take you behind the scars… into the hearts and minds of women who have endured unimaginable pain, suffering, and horror. Through their voices, we uncover the stark reality of justice delayed and most often denied in a society that overlooks their plight.

Read More: From Manipur to Rajasthan, Delhi to West Bengal: Women Stripped and Paraded as Society Watches On

Reshma Qureshi: A Sister's Tragedy

In the year 2014, Reshma Qureshi's life took an unexpected turn as her brother-in-law hurled acid at her. The target of the vicious attack was her sister but tragically, Reshma bore the brunt of the brutality. The attack left her with permanent scars, disfiguring half her body, her face, and her eyes. Shockingly, the perpetrator received a sentence of just about 10 years, but for Reshma, the consequences of that moment will haunt her for a lifetime.

Acid attack victim | Reshma Qureshi
Reshma Qureshi | Acid attack survivor | Photo courtesy: Special arrangement 

"This happened on September 19, 2014. My brother-in-law did this to me. He used to beat up my sister a lot and trouble her frequently. He would always be asking for dowry. So, we filed a case against him because my sister didn't want to go back. He kidnapped her child in response, and we filed another case asking for the child to be returned. One day, my sister and I were walking along the road when they attacked us with acid. They wanted to attack both of us sisters with acid, but I guess it was luck that my sister was left unscathed, and I became the recipient of the attack,” shares Reshma.

Reshma adds, "Half of my body, my face, and my eyes got damaged during this attack. My hand was also affected. After that, I had to face a lot of challenges in life. I just couldn't make sense of what went wrong in my life. Even the treatment was extremely expensive and I was literally moving from pillar to post for justice and for medical care".

Read More: Fake Encounters: Extra-judicial Killings By Rogue Cops

Acid Attack Victim Sonali Mukherjee: An Ordeal That Never Ends

Sonali Mukherjee, hailing from Dhanbad in Jharkhand, endured a life-altering acid attack in 2003 when she was just about 18 years old. Her ordeal began when she became the target of harassment by a group of young boys in her neighbourhood. When she stood her ground against the harassment and resisted their advances, they sought revenge in the most horrific way imaginable—by dousing her with acid while she lay asleep on the terrace of her home. The attack left her with deep scars, and she underwent over 50 surgeries. For the past twenty years, Sonali has been relentlessly fighting for justice.

Acid attack victim | Sonali Mukherjee
Sonali Mukherjee | Acid attack survivor | Photo courtesy: Special arrangement

"I might never be able to forget that night in my entire life," Sonali recounts. "My face was also damaged, 70 percent, and my body, face, everything got damaged. The trauma—I had no sense for months, my eyesight was gone."

But why do the wheels of the law grind so slowly for victims of acid attacks, like Sonali Mukherjee? Only some survivors, like Sonali, fight both medical and legal battles following such gruesome attacks. Many other women often give up; some commit suicide. Some struggle with mental health issues. Most of the others are left grappling with a system that often fails to deliver timely justice, prolonging their suffering and deepening the scars inflicted upon them.

Pragya Prasun: Scarred After 12 Days of Marriage

Pragya Prasun | Acid attack victim
Pragya Prasun | Acid attack survivor | Photo courtesy: Special arrangement

Pragya Prasun, another survivor of an acid attack, endured the horrifying ordeal just 12 days after her wedding. Despite the magnitude of the crime, her perpetrator received only a 4 and a half years sentence. For the past 13 years, he has been leading a normal life, while Pragya continues to grapple with her physical and emotional wounds, persistently dealing with ongoing medical issues and the haunting scars.

"I was attacked 12 days after my wedding in 2006, April… on 30th of April," Pragya recalls. "The accused was arrested the very next day because he was following me to the next private hospital where he wanted to throw more acid on me. Post that, he was set free in 2010 December, and he is now leading a normal life from the past 13 years."

Read More: LGBTQIA Rights: Can Government Institutionalise Stereotypes?

The disparity between the gravity of the crime and the punishment meted out to the perpetrators is painfully evident in many acid attack victims’ cases like Pragya’s.

Ritu Saini: A Battle for Sight

Ritu Saini's story closely parallels the struggles of many acid attack victims. She was attacked at the age of 16-17, and she lost her eyesight due to the severity of the injuries. "I was attacked 12 years ago when I was 16 or 17 years old," says Ritu. "My face started recovering, and my features began to show up, but my eyesight was lost forever. Even now, treatment is ongoing, and it's been almost 12 years."

Ritu Saini | Acid attack survivor
Ritu Saini | Acid attack survivor | Photo courtesy: Special arrangement

Ritu adds: “It was my cousin brother who had paid someone around 1 lakh rupees to attack me. He had feelings for me. Two boys on a bike threw acid on me, and since then, I lost my eyesight. I had to undergo 15-16 plastic surgeries. Then my face started recovering, and my features began to show up but my eyesight was lost forever. Even now, treatment is ongoing, and it's been almost 12 years. I have noticed that many government hospitals don't have good treatment facilities. For the first month, I still had some vision, but after a month, I lost my eyesight completely. If I had been in a bigger hospital in Delhi, maybe my eyes could have been saved.”

Though the perpetrators who unleashed this horror on Ritu were sent to jail, she was shocked to learn how swiftly they managed to secure their release on bail.In the district court, the decision was announced after 2.5 years that 3 people were sentenced to life imprisonment, and 2 people received 10 years of imprisonment each. When I got them punished through the district court, I thought it was done, and they would remain in jail for a longtime. However, I was informed later that all five were out on bail. They had secured bail from the high court. I learned about it after a very long time. So, as of now, if I go to the Supreme Court, it takes a lot of money to hire a lawyer, and it's difficult for me and my family to afford,” states Ritu.

Rashmi Bhatia | Acid Attack Survivor Recounts Horror 

Acid attack survivor Rashmi Bhatia

Rashmi Bhatia | Acid attack survivor | Photo courtesy: Special arrangement

According to the National Crime Records Bureau, over 1300 acid attacks were officially reported in India between 2016 and 2021. However, these figures likely just scratch the surface, as experts contend that there are a significantly larger number of unreported cases that remain hidden from official records. In the majority of the  reported cases where some sort of an action comes about, the perpetrators often receive relatively lenient sentences and secure bail with surprising ease. Rashmi Bhatia, for instance, was forcibly made to drink acid by her husband, and like countless other women, she, too, continues to wage her legal battle for justice.

"I got married in 2016. Three years after my marriage, in 2019, I was made to drink acid. My husband was the one who made me drink acid. In the morning, around 6 a.m, he made me drink acid. After that, he choked me and forced me to drink water as well. As a result, the acid spread throughout my body," recounts Rashmi.

Rashmi’s path to justice has been fraught with many disappointments: Endless hearings postponed, judicial inaction and the haunting trauma of her past. Meanwhile, her husband, once behind bars, is now out on bail while Rashmi grapples with suicidal thoughts and the enduring trauma. 

When I filed a police complaint, there were no hearings, and no action was taken. We were left wandering around. On top of that, my condition was so bad that I could not drink water from my mouth. My food pipe was completely damaged, and I was unable to eat food. He is out on bail now, as lockdown was imposed, and after that, no hearings have been conducted, only dates have been extended. I was so mentally disturbed that I lost all hope that I didn’t want to live. Many times, I used to think I should die, but the face of my son appeared in front of me. He is the reason I am alive now,” asserts Rashmi.

Shaheen Malik’s Life Altered After The Gruesome Attack on Her

Shaheen Malik | Acid attack survivor

Shaheen Malik | Acid attack survivor | Photo courtesy: Special arrangement

In 2009, at the age of 26, Shaheen Malik fell victim to an acid attack. Astonishingly, it took four years for the police to reach out to her. It was only through Shaheen's unwavering determination and the intervention of a magistrate that her case was eventually reopened, leading to the arrest of her perpetrators. However, they managed to secure bail with surprising ease. For the past 13 years, her case has been stuck in an endless trial, with no resolution in sight.

"I was 26 years old, and it was the evening of November 19, 2009. It was 6 o'clock when this incident occurred, and I was leaving the office. I saw a boy standing with his face covered using a handkerchief," Shaheen recalls. "Suddenly, he threw something on my face. At that time, I didn't understand what had happened to me or what it was. But within seconds, I started feeling a burning sensation and when I realised it was acid, I got afraid, and I started crying out loud. Some people came after hearing my screams. I was sitting in the middle and I was screaming out loud but people were not able to understand what had happened to me or what they should do to help me. Everyone surrounded me, but no one came forward to help me,”

In the world of acid attack survivors, the painful echoes of justice delayed resound far and wide. Their stories reveal a system that often falls short of delivering timely justice, leaving them to grapple not only with their physical scars but also with the endless trauma of waiting. In the battle for justice, time should never be the enemy, for justice delayed is justice denied, and every moment counts for those who have endured the unimaginable.