Shabana Khatun, 21, from Kolkata was in a relationship with a boy and wanted to marry him. One day she was invited by the boy’s family to discuss marriage. She went to her boyfriend’s place dreaming of a bright future but what happened there was straight out of a horror book. She was assaulted by the boy’s family and force-fed a bottle of acid. If that was not enough, she was molested and acid was poured over her private body parts. Her boyfriend, in the meanwhile remained a mute spectator to all the atrocities committed on her by his family. Shabana is yet another name in the long list of acid attack victims in India.
Acid attacks are increasingly becoming the tool of frustrated, spineless men in India to subjugate women and reclaim their hurt pride. Something as trivial as a quarrel to a lover being rejected can provoke an acid attack. Although no official figures can be provided, going by the number of registered cases, it is believed that the numbers of acid attacks are growing. Following the gang rape of Nirbhaya in Delhi, a committee of retired judges was set up to address the issue of growing violence against women. The commission had suggested that separate laws should be made to deal with people committing such heinous crimes.
Some victims are now coming out in the open and demanding justice for themselves. A case in point is that of Sonali, an acid attack victim, who has taken the help of television medium to acquaint people with her condition and raise the necessary finances for her treatment. Laxmi, another victim, has questioned the government as to why are there no restrictions on the sale of acids in India. Acting on a petition filed by her, the Supreme Court has asked the law commission to submit a report on acid attacks.
Ravi Choudhury, a photo journalist by profession, has been deeply affected by the condition of victims and has taken it upon himself to showcase the lives of acid attack victims. Through his photos, he has beautifully captured the strong spirit of these victims while capturing their scars and emotions on camera. Ravi has been involved in this work for the past two years and his aim has been to capture the lives of these women post the acid attack. Last year, Ravi decided to approach National Foundation for India (NFI) for a scholarship who upon seeing his work were so impressed by it that they decided to sponsor an exhibition of his pictures. Titled “Diaries of Acid Attack Victims”, it consists of monochrome pictures that not only encapsulate the severity of the crime that destroyed them but also highlights the emotional turmoil in the vivtim faces. The muses for the photographer belong to various regions of the country and Ravi’s lens has captured wonderfully well the beauty and misery of these women who have suffered both psychological and physical trauma.
Mere enforcement of laws will however not lead to a decrease of acid attacks in the country. Society, as a whole needs to change its mindset regarding women. Only then can we expect to see some positive change.