Student Pious Ahuja Starts a Campaign for Acid Attack Victim in India

This past summer, 2L Pious Ahuja interned at the Human Rights Law Network in New Delhi, India and was assigned to work on an acid attack case.  The case concerned two girls who were attacked with acid while they sleeping on their roof. 

“I worked on filing a Supreme Court petition for this case,” said Ahuja.  "To draft the petition, I had to research other acid attack cases and the prevalence of them in India. As I was doing that research, I found a case where essentially nothing had happened for the victim.  With some of the cases, at least there was some kind of justice, like there was a trial or some monetary compensation was given to the victim, in this case everything was at a standstill.”

One such victim, Sabana Khatun, had been with her boyfriend for about four years.  When he took her home to meet his parents to get approval for their marriage, his family members became extremely angry because she was of a lower socioeconomic class. 

“Instead of just stating their disapproval, they assaulted her and made her drink acid,” said Ahuja.  “After she swallowed it, they threw acid all over her and dumped her body thinking she was dead.”

Ahuja said she became alarmed when she found out that the police had arrested only one of the perpetrators and then released him shortly thereafter.

“I felt like I had to do something,” said Ahuja.  “At that time I couldn’t do anything specifically because I was working on the other petition. As I was finishing my job, however, I kept thinking about that girl and I felt like I really needed to help her in some way.”

"It was very difficult for me to understand why someone would be attacked so ruthlessly."

Ahuja got approval from her supervisor to conduct a fact-finding mission, and recruited another intern.  To get advice on how to proceed with the mission, they approached the Stop Acid Attacks campaign. While they were there, they met an activist who was also an acid attack victim.

“She had expert knowledge about not just the physical trauma that acid attack victims experience, but also the psychological trauma," said Ahuja. "I asked her to join us, and the three of us went to Kolkota.  It was a 14-hour train ride, and once we got there we got in touch with Human Rights Network in Kolkota.”

They set off to meet Khatun. When they met her, they were surprised to see that she didn’t have a scar on her face.

“Her face looked fine,” said Ahuja.  “She was very bubbly and forthcoming and it was very difficult for me to understand why someone as outgoing, friendly, and pretty would be attacked so ruthlessly.”

After the interview, they started what has become an advocacy campaign for Khatun.  They conducted research, scheduled a doctor’s appointment for her, published the fact-finding report, and with the help of the Stop Acid Attack Campaign, established a crowd-funding website.

“Her family has nearly gone bankrupt trying to pay for her medical treatment,” said Ahuja.  “They haven’t gone to a doctor since last year because they don’t have the money to go.  We just want to make sure that she gets the money to get the medical treatment she needs…at least the reconstructive surgeries in her mouth.  We also want to make sure she goes back to school, so we are trying to offer her some rehabilitation in that sense.” 

“As a law student, I feel that is my moral and legal duty to help others."

As s result of the fact-finding, the Human Rights Law Network in Kolkata took the case and are appealing and petitioning against the previous court decision. Ahuja said that the whole process is very strenuous and slow, so in the meantime, they are working to help her rehabilitate and obtain protective orders for her because her perpetrators live nearby.

“As a law student, I feel that is my moral and legal duty to help others, so although I’m always really busy with school and everything, I want to make time to help at least one person at a time,” said Ahuja.

Since she began studying at American University Washington College of Law, Ahuja said she has met many great individuals including students, professors, and visiting speakers who have fought for injustices with persistence, diligence, and an unwavering spirit. 

“The Washington College of Law community stretches far beyond the confines of Washington, D.C., and meeting alumni and working with them in India truly inspired me. My supervisors, Kerry Mcbroom and Maanasa Reddy, at the Human Rights Law Network were former AUWCL students who have become advocates for women’s rights in India. They have truly inspired me to follow in their footsteps.”

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Learn more about the campain to support Sabana Khatun.

The law school's Women and the Law Program will host a program on Acid Attacks on Feb. 3. Visit their website periodically for updates.