Use of acid in the recent Delhi riots is alarming.
It’s because it exposes the easy availability of acid despite strict regulations on its sale by the government, and because it seems to be a dangerous new trend.
Narendra Kumar sells momos on a cart in Shiv Vihar in northeast Delhi’s Karawal Nagar. For over a week after communal violence broke out in the area, Kumar could not go to work. His face and hands were burnt by an acid-like substance by unknown rioters.
“Due to riots, I didn’t take my cart too far from home. It was around 5 pm when I heard some noise and immediately turned my cart for return. Just then, a liquid fell on my face,” Kumar, a resident of phase 10 of Shiv Vihar, says.
He says the incident happened on 25 February.
“I felt a sharp pain, a burning sensation. I covered my face with my hands and the hands got burnt too.”
Kumar, who is 45, says he could not see the people who did it to him. He could not see the rioters at all. His face cupped with hands, Kumar left the cart and ran towards his house. A while later, his little daughter ventured out to bring his cart back home. Fortunately, she returned safe.
Kumar went to a local private doctor to get his burn injuries treated. “It was too risky to travel far,” he says.
Kumar has only recently resumed work. The incident has left him financially and mentally wrecked.
In the same area, 16-year-old Rahul Giri has sustained major burn injuries and discolouration on his face, hands and feet. A resident of street number 14, Giri was at the corner of his street at a grocery shop when, he says, a group of men wearing helmets threw a “black liquid” at him.
“I felt a sharp pain. I couldn’t see anything. It was like everything around me had become dark,” the minor boy recalls.
Giri ran towards his house screaming. By the time he reached home, his vision was better but hazy. He stepped straight into a water tank.
“I came out after quite some time, but my skin was still burning. My parents made me lie in the bed and did not allow me to look into the mirror. They kept applying coconut oil on me face, hands and feet till I slept,” he says.
It was only the next morning that Giri looked at himself in the mirror.
The child doesn’t recognise his tormentors, which means they could get away with the heinous crime. His mother says the boy has been in a shock since then, and isn’t talking much to anyone in the family.
His parents too took him to a private doctor in the area. “It was too risky for us to go to a hospital,” his father says.
A lesser-talked about but an extremely worrying feature of the recent communal riots in New Delhi is the use of acid, or “acid-like substance” as survivors have stated.
The victims include an eight-year-old girl, who was returning with her mother to Gokulpuri after attending a wedding in Shiv Vihar. The girl’s mother told India Today that an “acid-like substance” was thrown at the child.
The publication quoted the girl as saying, “I saw men with rods and swords in the streets. Danga ho raha tha [it was a riot out there]. We were walking and suddenly someone threw liquid at me. I screamed to my mother as my skin started to burn and dissolve, we ran from there immediately. I am scared now. I don't feel like eating anything.”
Swarajya’s ground visits and reports by other publications suggest that most cases of acid attacks in riots occurred in Shiv Vihar area.
Yet another victim of acid attack in the riots, 54-year-old Mohammad Waqil, is also a resident of Shiv Vihar, as reported by The National.
It is in the same area that a crew of Republic TV found an “acid factory” operating adjoining a school.
In its report, the news channel showed multiple tanks which were filled with acid but marked as ‘gangajal’.
At its facade, the factory had a board saying ‘Deepak band’.
However, a man claiming to be a former worker at the unit told the channel that the factory was owned by one Feroze Khan. The worker said that the acid was supplied mainly to “Mohammedan areas” such as Mustafabad, Chand Bagh, Karawal Nagar and Yamuna Vihar.
Local residents told the channel that they believe that the acid in the unit might have been supplied to the rioters.
A report by Times Now says that the Delhi police have found in their investigation that rioters had hoarded commercial acid, which they used in violence.
Acid pouches were also recovered from the terrace of a building in Khajuri Khas area in which Aam Aadmi Party councillor Tahir Hussain has an office.
It was atop this building that a large mob launched an attack on the nearby residential areas on 24 and 25 February.
Intelligence Bureau staffer Ankit Sharma was allegedly dragged by a mob into this building. His mutilated body was recovered in a nearby drain a day after he went missing on 25 February.
India has a history of use of acid during disputes or for revenge. It has been particularly used by men against women for turning down their advances.
A report by India Today says that as per data released by National Crime Records Bureau, a total of 1,483 acid attack cases were recorded between 2014 and 2018.
In 2005, a 16-year-old girl named Laxmi Agarwal was attacked with acid in New Delhi by Naeem Khan, who was a friend of her brother and would stalk her. A film called Chhapaak, made on Laxmi’s life, was released recently in cinema halls.
Yet, the use of acid in the recent riots is alarming. It’s because it exposes the easy availability of acid despite strict regulations on its sale by the government, and because it seems to be a new trend.
After years of campaigning by activists, the Indian government in 2013 framed the Model Poisons Possession and Sale Rules under the Poisons Act, 1919 to regulate sale of acid and other corrosive substances.
The same year, two sections 326A and 326B were inserted in the IPC by the Criminal Laws Amendment Act to recognise acid attacks as a specific crime.
As per Vikram Singh, a former top cop, Delhi riots saw for the first time the use of catapults to launch petrol and acid bombs.
“There are two things that are different — the first is the massive use of slingshots and use of Molotov and acid bombs that was sparingly used 30 years [ago],” Singh has been quoted as saying by The National.
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