How many more will have to fall victim to acid attack before sales of the deadly chemical are regulated?
Police arrested 50-year-old Ram Babu Paswan, a resident of Chandrapur Municipality, Rautahat, on Tuesday, on charges of dousing two girls of his neighbourhood – Samjhana Das, 18, and Sushmita Das, 15 – with acid. Both the girls, who were attacked on September 11, are now undergoing treatment at a Kirtipur-based hospital. Paswan had splashed acid on them when they were sleeping at their house. Grade VI student Sushmita who suffered injuries in the right hand and neck is recovering well but the condition of her elder sister Samjhana, a seventh-grade dropout, is said to be critical, as she has suffered “deep burn” in 35 per cent of her body. Doctors said Samjhana has only 20 per cent survival chances because of the severity of injuries caused by acid penetration into her body. Even if Samjhana undergoes successful surgery she won’t be able to return to her previous form as the acid will leave behind scars on her body and her face may even be disfigured, according to doctors. This is what sounds the death knell for acid attack survivors, which leads to psychological trauma and isolation from the society.
In recent years, acid attacks have become commonplace, be it in Tarai, remote hills or in the Capital. Six-month-old Muskan Bayak died in an acid attack in Achham on Wednesday after Janaki Bayak, a relative of the deceased baby, threw acid on the male child. Except for exceptions like this one, victims of most of the acid attack cases in Nepal are females and the attackers, males. The male generally splashes acid to take revenge on a woman who had rejected his proposal. Samjhana, for example, became a victim of acid attack because she rejected 50-year-old Paswan’s proposal to get married. It may also be noted that a 20-year-old boy was sentenced to 10 years in jail on charges of attempted murder for attacking two teenage schoolgirls with acid in Jhonchhen, Kathmandu, on February 22, 2015. In 2017, two persons were also arrested in connection with acid attack on an engineer in Chitwan. These incidents are only the tip of the iceberg. Many such incidents either go unreported or are settled locally. If the government fails to curb this practice, more people, especially females, will fall victim to vicious acid attacks.
Acid attacks are posing a threat to the society and inciting fear among the female population despite the presence of laws to control the violent assault. The new Criminal Code, which came into force on August 17, clearly states acid attackers shall be sentenced to five to eight years in jail and fined Rs 100,000 to Rs 300,000 depending upon the gravity of the attack. In case of death, the perpetrator will even face murder charge and sentenced accordingly. Yet the number of acid attacks has not come down. This is largely because the deadly chemical is easily available over-the-counter across the country. After the Jhonchhen incident, the Supreme Court had ordered the government to regulate sales and distribution of acid. But, so far, there has been no scrutiny on sales of acid. Of course, its sale cannot be banned as it is used almost everywhere from household to industries. But legal provisions like making it mandatory for acid buyers to show ID card can certainly reduce acid attack incidents. The Department of Commerce, Supplies and Protection of Consumers must introduce strict rules, making it mandatory for licensed sellers to keep detailed record of acid buyers and sales. How many more will have to fall victim to acid attack before the government regulates sales of the deadly chemical?
Kathmandu Valley is probably the only capital city in the world without traffic lights for reasons all and sundry would fail to understand. Not that the traffic lights system needs to be re-invented or tailor-made for the Kathmandu roads. The system isn’t so complicated, either. It’s been tried and tested in every nook and corner of the world. The red, orange and green lights controlled and regulated the traffic movement till a little over two decades ago or so. The traffic lights began to vanish slowly, but steadily from the Kathmandu streets. They have now become a thing of the past.
Only six months ago, the DoR’s Road Traffic Unit said it had installed “smart traffic lights” but the system went kaput within days after installation. Now the Department is saying it will install traffic lights that are less complicated. Does that make sense? Somebody should seriously look into why the “smart system” failed in no time and take stern action.
A version of this article appears in print on September 21, 2018 of The Himalayan Times.