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India's Acid-Attack Victims Seek Justice, Compensation

Women are disfigured and blinded by spurned lovers, employers, even kin who think the family's honor has been sullied.

June 06, 2004|Gautam Singh | Associated Press Writer

BANGALORE, India — She's blind and disfigured. Her college friends don't visit anymore, and children are terrified of her. On rare trips out of the house, she hides behind a cotton scarf.

Her anger still burns.

Five years ago, Haseena Hussein's former boss flung acid onto her, angry that the woman he'd become infatuated with resisted coming back to work for him.

In July, that man may walk free from jail in this southern Indian city, a place best-known for its software engineers and high-tech millionaires.

"I want the worst for him," said Hussein, 25, who has lost count of the skin grafts she has had on her face and body. Her family has spent $15,555 on her care, and donations dried up long ago.

In early May, a court sentenced Hussein's attacker, Joseph Rodrigues, 32, to five years and three months in jail and ordered him to pay her compensation of $6,666.

Because Rodrigues has already spent more than five years in jail while awaiting trial, he could be released in July. Prosecutors are appealing the sentence.

"I only wanted that he should be punished severely. I have to suffer this lifelong," said Hussein, who once dreamed of being a fashion designer but now spends most of her day applying creams to her scarred face and body.

She sits on the porch of her parents' apartment, keeping her back to the road to spare passersby a glimpse of her badly burned face.

Hussein is far from alone. Thousands of Indian women are thought to have been burned in acid attacks, some by spurned lovers, others by relatives who believe that the women have somehow tarnished the family honor.

Although there are no precise figures on the number of victims, women's groups contend that cases are on the rise. The Campaign and Struggle Against Acid Attacks on Women has documented more than 30 cases in the last five years in Karnataka state, of which Bangalore is the capital.

Women's groups want faster trials for the accused, stiffer sentences, tough laws restricting sales of acid and compensation for victims. In most cases now, attackers are charged with attempted murder, which carries a prison term of not more than 10 years.

Police said Rodrigues threw acid on Hussein outside her office on April 20, 1999. He owned a software firm where she had worked until the company closed. When it reopened, she already had another job.

Rodrigues told Hussein that he loved her, police said, and tried to persuade her to rejoin his company. When she refused, he attacked her, police charged.

Rodrigues denied throwing the acid.

Hussein remembers the excruciating pain, the burning. Then there were the rounds of plastic surgery and skin grafts.

In an attempt to restore sight to her right eye, she recently underwent a cornea transplant. Doctors won't know for a few months whether any vision has been restored.

No matter what, her anger won't go away.

"Even if I die," Hussein said, "I'll never forgive him."

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