Acid Attacks on Rise in South Asia

Violence against women often goes unpunished, say victim support groups.

ByABC News
April 16, 2008, 11:56 AM

NEW DELHI, April 16, 2008 — -- In Mahalakshmi's life, there is a day before and a day after.

The day before was Jan. 10, 2001. Her brown hair was pulled back, her brown eyes saw what she remembers as a "pleasant day," a day when the doctor went to work at her clinic in Mysore, India, and returned home to her daughter.

The day after, she lay in a hospital bed, where she would stay for the next month and a half. She had lost her left eye and her left ear and her body was badly burned after her former landlord, in a rage, poured a bucket of acid on her head.

"For someone born normal at birth, and leading a normal life, all of a sudden you become a disabled person. It is difficult to accept," Mahalakshmi, who uses only one name, told ABC News.

There are no national statistics on how many Indian women are the targets of acid attacks. But read the newspapers here and you'll find their stories, women having disputes over relationships or property or family, women who become the victims of crimes that physically and mentally ruin their lives.

The problem seems most acute in South Asia, although it is not restricted to this part of the world. The Bangladesh Acid Survivors Foundation reports that an average of 228 acid attacks have occurred each year since 1999. In 2002, in Pakistan, 750 women were injured in acid attacks, Human Rights Watch reported.

And in the southern Indian state of Karnataka, where Mysore is located, the Campaign and Struggle Against Acid Attacks on Women reports that 70 women have been attacked since 1999, but "there could be many more."

"This is another form of violence against women, and the patriarchal values that exist in societies are responsible for this horrific form of atrocity," Sushma Varma, the head of the campaign, better known as CSAAW, tells ABC News.

In Indian society there are multiple systematic ways in which women have become the targets of violence, from the burning of widows to the widespread aborting of female fetuses.

But acid is common here. Many Indians use it to clean their kitchens and bathrooms instead of bleach, and that's why it has become a weapon.