The government should enact law to regulate the sale and distribution of acids to prevent women and girls from acid attacks
The sole motive of a perpetrator behind throwing acid on girls is to disfigure them permanently and make them face physical, mental, social and psychological trauma throughout life. Acid attacks on girls and women are on the rise even in Nepali society as the chemical is easily available in the market due to lack of a law regulating the distribution and sale of sulphuric acid and nitric acid used by the perpetrators. In a recent horrendous case, Muskan Khatun, 15, a ninth grade schoolgirl from Birgunj, was attacked with acid by Samsad Alam, 16, and his accomplice Majid Alam, 16. While police have arrested Samsad, Majid is still absconding. Police say the girl has suffered severe burn injuries on her face, chest and abdomen due to the acid attack. After the Narayani Sub-Regional Hospital could not treat her, she is now undergoing treatment at Kirtipur Hospital, which specialises in burn injuries. According
to preliminary investigation, Samsad, who was smitten with Muskan, threw acid on her after she rejected his advances.
This is not the first time that girls have become victims of acid attacks. Police had arrested a 50-year-old Ram Babu Paswan, a resident of Chandrapur Municipality, Rautahat, on charges of dousing two girls of his neighbourhood – Samjhana Das, 18, and Sushmita Das, 15 – with acid on September 11 last year. Samjhana succumbed to the burn injuries after a few days while undergoing treatment at Kirtipur Hospital. Similarly, a six-month-old Muskan Bayak also died in an acid attack in Achham last year. Considering the growing incidents of acid attacks in society, the Supreme Court on August 10, 2017, in response to a writ petition, had ordered the government to regulate the sale and distribution of acids. Although a new panel code proposes punishing an acid attacker with a jail sentence ranging from 5 to 8 years and a fine ranging from Rs 100,000 to Rs 500,000 for defacing or maiming a victim, a separate law is a must to regulate the distribution, sale and use of acids.
Two years have already passed since the apex court ruling. But the government has yet to table a bill to this effect to regulate the distribution of acids widely used in industrial and educational purposes. Several countries, including Bangladesh, India and Pakistan, have enacted laws to prevent rampant sale and distribution of acids. A report said Bangladesh succeeded in reducing acid attacks by 15 per cent after a law was enacted to control the sale and distribution of acids. According to a 2015 report of Acid Survivors Foundation, out of 74 acid attack victims in Nepal, 50 were girls and women. Instead of enacting a law to this effect, the lawmakers, however, have demanded death penalty to the acid attackers. Three lawmakers from both the ruling and opposition benches sought the death penalty, going against the constitution and international instruments that had abolished it. Our constitution has also adhered to them. The death penalty does not act as a deterrent. Lawmakers should be familiar with the constitution and our obligations to international treaties. Besides laws, it is necessary for parents to also educate their kids to respect women and girls and about the consequences of such a heinous crime.
It’s good news that electric buses have begun plying the roads of Kathmandu, as a step towards cutting down on fossil fuel and improving the environment. For now, four buses belonging to Sundar Yatayat will provide their services along the Ring Road, with plans to expand the service elsewhere as well. Although the initial investment on electrical buses is heavy, compared to the diesel-run vehicles, their lower operating cost should start paying rich dividends after a few years.
Electric vehicles (EVS) are the future, and it is only a matter of time before vehicles that run on fossil fuels go the way of the dodo. Nepal must, therefore, make preparations, in terms of policy and infrastructure, to enable the country to introduce EVs on a scale that will replace the fossil-fuel vehicles over time. One of the prerequisites for the promotion of EVs is charging stations, and the government has plans to set up 200 such stations across the country. Just five years ago, it would have been hard to imagine EVs on the roads of Nepal. But with load-shedding having become a thing of the past, and Nepal likely to see an energy surplus soon, the country is better off promoting EVs sooner than later.
A version of this article appears in print on September 10, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.