While lawyers and activists working with victims of acid attack and sexual assault agree that the Maharashtra government’s Manodhairya scheme makes several laudable promises, effective implementation remains a challenge in the backdrop of poor awareness among law-enforcers as well as victims.
The Government Resolution on the Manodhairya scheme dated October 21, 2013, laudably directs immediate assistance from the police and hospital authorities after an acid attack. As soon as an FIR is registered, information must be conveyed “either through e-mail or SMS” to the chairman of District Injuries Relief and Rehabilitation Board, District Superintendent of Police, District Surgeon or District Women and Child Development Officer, so that the district board meets immediately.
One of the most widely welcomed provisions of the scheme was monetary support even before the trial commences.
Activist and lawyer Flavia Agnes says, “Fifty per cent compensation is supposed to be provided immediately after the FIR is filed so that medical treatment and required legal expenses can be taken care of by the victim’s family.”
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However, Agnes’s legal aid organisation Majlis, whose representatives are also on the committee that oversees the implementation of Manodhairya in Mumbai, found police officers to be ignorant about the law. Agnes says, “With so many circulars, different guidelines, police officers do not follow one set of protocol. There needs to be just one set of procedures to remove ambiguity.”
In the case of sisters Saira Baig, Daulat Khan and Reshma Qazi, who had acid thrown on them in Bandra Reclamation by another sister and the latter’s son in 2010, getting any assistance from the police proved to be a nightmare.
Though their case precedes Manodhairya by three years, the police response showed the need for better sensitisation of the police force.
“We had to run around to get a copy of the FIR,” says Daulat Khan. She raised funds herself for multiple surgeries . “All I want is for that money returned to me. I have no other hope from the system” she says.
The trial in the case too was finally expedited in the Sessions Court only after the Bombay High Court’s intervention. The judge observed that the women continued to face a threat and asked for the case to be expedited.
With the 2013 amendment in Section 326 A of the Indian Penal Code (voluntarily causing grievous hurt by use of acid), accused under this section now face up to 10 years in prison, which may extend to life imprisonment.
Daulat Khan is set to file an application seeking alteration of charges. Archana Rupwate, the lawyer representing Daulat and her sisters, points out that the section is yet to be added even two years after the amendments were introduced. In fact, according to the sisters, the police were unable to file charges against them in the stipulated 90-day period after the crime allegedly occurred.
“The new section would work as a boon for the case as it would make it more grievous. It makes a strong case for conviction,” says Rupwate.
It’s a similar tale for the family of Preeti Rathi.
On May 1, 2013, the 25-year-old Delhi nursing graduate had stepped off a train at Bandra Terminus with her father and another relative, with a job offer as a nurse in INHS Asvini. She’d merely walked a few steps when a man threw acid on her and fled.
Rathi lost her life after a month-long struggle as her organs failed one after another — the acid had penetrated the insides of her throat and lungs.
Close to two years later, the case continues. The small consolation for the Rathis is that at least the compensation of Rs 2 lakh announced by then Home Minister RR Patil was paid, mostly due to media reports, according to Rathi’s father Amarsingh.
“Police investigations were very slow. For the first one month, we kept requesting for the case to be transferred from the Government Railway Police,” says Lalit Solanki, her cousin.
Now, with the aim of improving police response, the Mumbai Police released a booklet prepared by Majlis this March, providing Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) in acid attack, sexual violence and child abuse cases. “The chief minister announced that the SOPs will be implemented across Maharashtra to maintain uniformity,” Agnes says. Majlis is all set to implement a training programme for 5,000 officers.
Another city-based intervention for victims was to set up one-point crisis centers where the victim can be counselled, medically examined and provided the right medical and legal support. The centers, announced last year, at KEM, Sion and Nair hospitals, are yet to take off properly.
The sole purpose of the centers is to mobilise everything for the victim at one point instead of forcing the already traumatised person to visit different departments such as gynaecology, forensics and casualty.
According to field workers, while the centre at Nair hospital is working well, in Sion hospital the center is located on the first floor of the post-mortem center.
Dr Suhasini Nagda, director of medical education for municipal corporation, said that the center will now be shifted closer to the OPD to make the process smoother for the survivor.