“Blessings always giving,” reads the inscription on an aluminum plate plastered on a wall outside the house of the 17-year-old girl who was attacked with acid in southwest Delhi’s Dwarka on December 14. Her family had moved into this three-room apartment nearly two years ago.
The house has been mostly locked for the last 24 hours as the family members are attending to the teenager at the burns ward of Safdarjung Hospital. The class 12 student was on her way to school when two bike-borne men on her, burning 18 percent of her body.
The police have three people in connection with the attack so far.
Mahesh Kumar, who lives on the floor below the victim's and whose daughter is friends with her, said he realised what had happened when the girl's parents came running to him and asked him to start his motorcycle. “As soon as she managed to sit on the bike, I noticed fumes rising from her face and neck. She was struggling to open her eyes,” he recalled.
That's when the girl's father told Mahesh that “somebody had poured acid on her".
They took her to Deen Dayal Upadhyay Hospital and informed the police who filed an FIR. From Deen Dayal Upadhyay Hospital, the girl was referred to Safdarjung Hospital the same day. “She’s a very bright and intelligent girl who has interest in the legal field. I remember her telling me she would like to become a judge someday," Mahesh said. “Never had we imagined we would be witness to such an incident. Those animals have ruined the life of this child. I’m in such a state of shock I’m worried about sending my daughters outside now."
‘She wanted to go to London’
Mahesh’s daughter said her friend had already started preparing for life after school next year. “She had spoken to a career counsellor and had plans to go to London,” she said.
The main accused is Sachin Arora, who alleged stalked the survivor for sometime before attacking her. “Yes, he would follow her on his scooty and repeatedly try and speak with her,” the friend said.
Arora lived in the same neighborhood as the victim before her family shifted to the new apartment.
Her father runs a business selling rubber stamps and vehicle licence plates, and also deals in real estate. The girl lived with her parents, two younger siblings and their grandmother. “Her grandmother is the most upset of them all," said a neighbour.
The spot where the attack took place.
Neighbours in shock
Jasvir Sharma has a toy store in the area where the girl lives. It's within a few steps of where the acid attack took place. Sharma couldn't fathom why such a deadly substance as acid was so easily available. "Why can’t it be put out of circulation completely?” he asked.
Vandana, who runs a stationary shop right outside the victim's house said, “This is nothing but a lapse on the part of the government. These men ordered acid online. It's as easy as purchasing clothes.”
She added that the “sale of acid should be banned completely”.
Devendra Singh, a retired government employee, shifted to this area in 2012. His house is right opposite the spot where the attack happened. He came to know about it two hours later. “As you can see, despite what happened here there’s hardly any police presence,” he complained. The nearest police picket is the Mohan Garden station a few kilometres away. “We don’t have strict laws and so there is no sense of fear. Is there a way to keep tabs on the sale of acid even online?”
Easy availability of acid
On November 29, the Delhi Commission for Women released a report which claimed that most sub-divisional magistrates were "violating the orders of the Supreme Court and were not carrying out inspections and imposing penalties against those who are indulging in open sale of acid". According to the report, the last such inspections were conducted in North District and Shahdara in 2017. “SDMs like those of East, North, New Delhi, North East and Shahdara District have not imposed even a single penalty on unregulated acid sale in their districts since 2017," the report added.
In the case of the Dwarka acid attack, the police have found that the accused bought the acid from the online marketplace Flipkart. The Delhi police have issued notice to Flipkart while the DCW has written to Amazon as well asking to know why acid remains available on the online shopping site as well as details of the sellers. The commission has also asked for a copy of the licence obtained by these online shopping platforms for selling acid. The 2013 Supreme Court guidelines though aren't clear and specific about the sale of acid on online shopping platforms.
Even within a 2-3 km radius of the house, Newslaundry was able to buy bottled industrial-grade corrosive acid from at least three shops for as little as Rs 20 a bottle. None of the shopkeepers asked us for identity proof or seemed to maintain a register for over-the-counter sale of acid as required by the 2013 Supreme Court judgment in the Laxmi vs Union of India case.
“Even when one uses acid for cleaning a floor, it leaves behind a scar. Imagine the impact it has on someone’s skin,” said Mahesh. “A child’s life shouldn’t be ruined like this."
Pictures by Akanksha Kumar.