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There’s a 2013 law that restricts sale of acid, but it is still very easy to procure, as this ‘sting operation’ by Deepika Padukone showed.
A Supreme Court ruling in 2013 permits the sale of acid only when certain strict conditions are met. A ‘sting operation’ by Deepika Padukone, whose film Chhapaak deals with the issue of acid attacks, however has shown that even today, buying acid is ridiculously easy. Isn’t it time we act and make sure that this gap is closed?
Deepika Padukone’s film Chhapaak is an incredibly important movie for the way in which highlights a real problem in society –acid attacks. Even as the media highlights the low box office numbers, people are staying away from theatre screens for petty political reasons and/or because they assume that as it deals with a ‘serious issue’ it will be ‘depressing’ or ‘boring’.
That however, hasn’t stopped the Chhapaak team or actor Deepika Padukone from bridging the distance between screen and reality. Via social experiments, they continue to highlight the various facets of acid attacks.
An earlier social experiment by Deepika Padukone, conducted along with real acid attack survivors, exposed the discrimination and rejection that acid attack survivors have to live with on a daily basis. Now, she and her team have conducted another experiment that focusses on another crucial element –the easy availability of acid.
In a video posted on Instagram, actors planted by Deepika, equipped with hidden cameras and microphones approach shopkeepers and ask to buy acid. Shockingly, by the end of the video, they walk away with 24 bottles –in a single day!
The video begins with Deepika saying, “Agar aap kisiko propose karein, par aap mana karte hain, kisi ke pareshaan karne pe awaaz uthayein, ya apne haq ke liye ladein, aur aap pe koi acid phenk de. Acid phikne ki sabse badi wajah acid khud hai. Agar yeh bikta nah toh phikta nahi.”
(If someone proposes to you and you say no, if raise your voice when someone harasses you, or if you fight for your rights and someone throws acid on your face – The biggest reason behind acid attacks is acid itself. If it wasn’t sold, it wouldn’t have been thrown.)
She then invites viewers along on a social experiment to see how easily acid can be purchased in India.
She explains that to conduct the experiment some actors have been planted, who in various roles (husband, house wife, plumber, student, mechanic, drunkard) have been instructed to approach shopkeepers and buy acid. The accompanying shots show that these actors have been equipped with hideen cameras and microphones, and that they are being observed at a distance by Deepika, and cameramen.
As the video progresses, we see how these ‘characters’ approach shopkeepers and ask to buy acid, giving various reasons such as, “my wife has asked for it,” “I need it to clean tiles,” or “I need to remove rust.” When they do not initially receive a strong enough acid, they demand for acids that will “burn off a person’s hand or skin.”
At one point a couple of shopkeepers are heard to ask, “Why do you need the acid? Are you planning to throw it on someone?” In one case, the customer even retorts saying, “Why do you need to know? You just sell it to me.” To which the shopkeeper hands him the bottle and issues a lukewarm warning, “Don’t do anything untoward with it.” Other customers who are at these shops and witnessing the proceedings also do not speak up or interfere.
Only in one case does the shopkeeper ask to see an ID card and refuse to sell acid when the fake customer doesn’t produce it. In the end the team is shown to have been able to purchase 24 bottles of acid, just by using some mild cajoling and persistence.
The video then goes on to show acid attack survivors listing the rules that govern the sale of acid, as mentioned in the 2013 Supreme Court ruling:
Deepika also reminds us before the video ends that stopping the sale of acid is not just the responsibility of shopkeepers. Even we are responsible, and if we see someone illegally buying or selling acid, we should report it to the police.
Rarely does a movie engage with society with so much responsibility. Even though it may be a ‘promotional’ activity, the social experiment does highlight a real gap between what the law is on paper, and the reality of its execution. The movie has done more than expected –it has created awareness. Now it is up to society –us, law enforcement and law makers to close the gaps we see.
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Vijayalakshmi Harish is a book blogger and writer. To paraphrase her librarian, she is a
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