* It has been nearly a year since Reshma Qureshi’s family received a letter from a senior police inspector in Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh, promising them Rs 1 lakh within 15 days and Rs 2 lakh over the subsequent two months. No money ever came. This 18-year-old acid attack survivor’s family has not yet given up on the state’s compensation scheme, but their hopes run low.
* Lalita Ben Bansi was 21 when she was attacked in her native town of Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh in October 2012. It wasn’t just a splash of acid – the attack was an elaborate ordeal of emptying an entire beer bottle filled with acid over her head. “No one came forward to help me then. Even now, except for medical treatment, there has been no help. No one told me about compensation,” says Lalita.
Reshma and Lalita, both residents of Mumbai, have a common complaint: Don’t have enough information about what kind of compensation the government offered survivors of acid attacks. That the two are Mumbaikars but were attacked in a different state complicates their situation further.
Reshma, a Chembur resident, is the youngest child of a taxi driver. She has a brother who is a stock broker and three sisters. Lalita has two younger brothers who dropped out of school a few years ago; she herself dropped out after Class VII.
“Do we run around government offices and courts for money or do we focus on getting back to work and tending to my sister’s immediate needs?” asks Aizaz, Reshma’s brother.
In July 2013, the apex court had ruled that victims of acid attacks were entitled to Rs 1 lakh within 15 days of an assault and a total of Rs 3 lakh in compensation. Reshma was attacked in May 2014. The Maharashtra government’s Manodhairya scheme for acid attack victims was also already in place when she was attacked. Lalita was attacked before the scheme was implemented, but the Bombay HC stated in March that a cut-off date to fix eligibility for assistance under the scheme was not in keeping with the SC verdict of 2013. This means Lalita too could approach the government for aid.
Yet, both Reshma and Lalita remain uncompensated, neither even aware of the scheme.
Aizaz’s father left for Uttar Pradesh a week ago to once again claim compensation from the district magistrate there. “My lawyer says some girls got compensation in UP so maybe my plea for compensation will now be expedited,” Aizaz says.
Lalita’s father, Ashok Kumar Ben Bansi, says he has absolutely no information of any kind of compensation scheme offered by either the Maharashtra or UP state governments. “I don’t know about the HC order. I have no idea about the procedure that needs to be followed to approach the government now for help if we are eligible for assistance,” says the petrol pump attendant.
With little or no knowledge of how to approach state agencies for financial assistance, both survivors have fallen back on charity to meet their medical expenses. Surgeon Ashok Gupta of Bombay Hospital, who treats both the young women, suggests that a national plan may be better than state-wise schemes for victims. “Acid attack survivors should be compensated in whichever state they receive treatment,” Dr Gupta says.
Reshma was visiting her sister in Allahabad when her brother-in-law tried to attack both of them. As some of the sulphuric acid fell on her sister, Reshma ran. But friends of the accused chased her down a street where she was pinned down and her face doused with acid. She lost her left eye; her right eye is still infected. Her face was severely disfigured.
Lalita, meanwhile, was attacked five months after she yelled at a younger cousin brother during an indoor game. After being attacked while on her way to a fair, it was three hours before her mother and aunt could get her to a hospital. By then she was blinded, her elbows were stuck at an angle, her nose, ears and eyelids had melted.
Lalita has undergone around 30 surgeries, with 12 or 13 to go. Gupta says Reshma needs more surgeries too, following elaborate surgeries done to save her eye, structure her mouth and more. While Lalita has received about Rs 3 lakh in donations, Reshma was lucky to find one donor who gave her Rs 4 lakh.
In addition, NGO Make Love Not Scars organised a crowd funding exercise for Reshma’s hospital and legal expenses.
“It is not our first choice, we do not think of it as an option, but we are left with none when the government does not come forward to help,” says Ria Sharma, founder of the NGO. Sharma adds that they focus on early treatment especially since it is “futile” to wait for authorities to play their role. She says she can recollect only one case in which a victim was compensated by the state in which she was attacked, not her home state.
Meanwhile, the trial is yet to begin in Reshma’s case, though the family has engaged a lawyer in New Delhi to file an appeal in the Supreme Court, seeking a transfer of the case to Mumbai. The family is keen to track the case closely.
Lalita says her father sold some agricultural land, as well as took loans, to pay the initial medical bills in UP. A petrol pump attendant in Mumbai Central, he does not even travel back home in the distant suburb of Kalwa everyday.