Chanchal Paswan, 24-year-old acid attack survivor, passed away on Thursday afternoon at about 1:10 PM as she was being rushed to the hospital from her home in Chhitnawan village within Maner block in Patna district, due to medical complications which rose from disruption of her breathing through the nose.
Chanchal wasn’t just a survivor, but also a fighter till her last breath for the rights of acid attack survivors.
On October 21, 2012, four assailants attacked 19-year-old Chanchal by pouring acid on her face as she slept on the rooftop of her home. The acid also burned her younger sister, Sonam, who had been sleeping beside her. College-going Chanchal, who had been the prime target, had earlier too faced sexual harassment from the same men. The assailants had also been terrorising her family, threatening to damage and destroy her face if she didn’t agree to their demands of having sexual relations with them. Chanchal’s family was Dalit, while the assailants belonged to a higher caste.
Several obstacles came in the way of the sisters’ treatment — which was extremely delayed and inadequate from the start. They eventually received a sum of Rs 2,42,000 from the Government of Bihar, but by then Rs 5 Lakh had already been spent on their still on-going treatment. In April 2013, Chanchal, along with Varsha Jawalgekar, activist and founder-director of Bihar-based NGO Parivartan Kendra, went on to file a Public Interest Litigation with the Supreme Court of India to demand full rehabilitation for acid attack victims.
On December 7, 2015, announcing its decision in Parivartan Kendra v/s Union of India, the Supreme Court directed all states and union territories to include acid attack victims in the disability list in response to the writ petition filed by NGO Parivartan Kendra highlighting the plight of acid attack victims and the inadequacy of the payable compensation. This made acid attack victims eligible for the same rights, benefits and reservation as disabled persons — a crucial win from the perspective of gaining employment.
The court also ordered the state to pay Rs 13 lakh as compensation to the Paswan sisters. “Before Chanchal’s case, the compensation was of Rs 25,000, since at the time when she was attacked, even the decision on Laxmi case had not been announced. With this particular decision, the court made it 52x the amount”, says Jawalgekar. “It also said that the compensation amount should increase if an acid attack victim in future suffered greater burns, which were 28 per cent in Chanchal’s case”, she adds. Most importantly, Supreme Court directed all private hospitals of the country to provide free treatment to acid attack victims, inclusive of medicines and expensive reconstructive surgeries.
Chanchal herself did not get to benefit much from the Supreme Court decision, but her indomitable spirit refused to give up without a fight. She had recently given her third year exams for B.A. Political Science. “This is a personal loss for me because when one gets tired of fighting alone, looking up to another fighter is a boost for that flagging morale. That is what Chanchal had come to be for me,” says Jawalgekar who first met her 15-20 days after the attack. “She was exemplary in sustaining a difficult fight, against all odds”, she says.
The assailants — Anil Rai, Ghanshyam Rai, Badal and Raja — had been jailed for a few months after the incident, on charges of Attempt to Murder, but after that have mostly been out on bail. On various occasions, they continued to harass and terrorise Chanchal and her family, Jawalgekar said.