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All Related to Acid Attacks in Nepal 

Background 

  • Introduction

Acid-attack is the deliberate use of acid as a weapon to attack another being with the intention of destroying the structure of the face, body parts and even life of the victims. 

It is the most brutal form of violence in the world today.  The perpetrator being the one who plans and commits the crime. So, acid attack is a pre-planned felony where the perpetrator has to seek for the exact time, by following and monitoring their activities. Only after figuring out all these details, can the perpetrator make a blueprint to execute their vicious plan. 

  • Statistics

According to Burn Violence Survivors (BVS-Nepal), a Kathmandu-based organization that helps survivors of acid and burn violence has recorded about 40 cases of acid attacks each year for the past eight years. It’s difficult to get these figures correct.

Acid Survivors Trust International (ASTI) suggests that 60 percent of cases globally go unreported each year. According to a report of BVS-Nepal, ASTI states: the victims of acid-violence usually are women and children, not to leave that men fall prey to such as well.

The perpetrator often targets the head and face in order to disfigure and blind their targeted victim. 

  • A case that improved Nepal’s law on Acid-Attack. 

After the case of Sangita Magar, she demanded amendment in Nepal’s law on Acid and Burn violence. (Before this, there was no provision of getting any compensation for acid and burn violence.) The Supreme Court (SC) eventually, directed the government to provide immediate financial aid. 

The problem lies with the implementation of laws. Despite SC’s order the government did not enforce the decision accordingly. Even in cases of acid-attack where the victims need immediate financial support as much as possible, the tortoise-like processes of the court make the government responsible for their permanent scars. 

  • Immediate Assistance 

Pouring fresh clean water in the burn area is the immediate medical assistance that will minimize the burns from 30 to 40%.  Water is to be poured for as long as possible (20 to 30 minutes is recommended) until the victim gets to the hospital. Any jewelry and accessories that the victim is wearing should be gently removed. While many believe that milk is a better option, however milk is alkaline and does more damage. Stick to fresh water as it may complicate the prescribed treatment by doctors. 

If acid has entered the victim’s eyes,  douse it gently be under cold running water for at least 10 minutes, thoroughly pouring in the eyelid both inside and out. 

Causes of Increasing Acid-Attack 

  • Entitlement

One of the main causes of increasing acid-attack is the entitlement of men on women’s bodies. 

The patriarchal beliefs like ‘Boys will be Boys’ & ‘Men Don’t Cry’ from an early age has conditioned them to believe that higher sex drive and being or showing themselves as strong is the most important for ‘Manly Men.’

When ‘Manly Men’ (subject) wants something or perhaps ‘a’ somebody (object), the person ought to automatically be serving in favor of their (subject) intention. They want to possess the person and when they are unable to do so, it disturbs their ego. How dare she reject him when he showed his feelings for her being all vulnerable and bare? 

They call it love interest but the person did not have options as love proposals do. There are no ifs or buts and this is a dangerous headspace. 

When they realize it otherwise, they can’t contain the pinch or the burn inside. So, they spit their acidic burns compensating for rejection of their advances. 

  • The Flawed Law

Muluki Criminal Code Act 2047, under section 193 prohibits everyone from causing bodily pain to another person by administering acid or similar kind of toxic substance in a way that would disfigure the face or any part of the body. 

According to the law :

–  In case of disfigurement of the face, 5 to 8 years of jail time and fine of 1 to 5 lakhs 

–  In case of disfigurement of the organ or bodily pain, 3 to 5 years of jail time and fine of 50,000 to 300,000 

In addition, the punishment to the criminal and compensation to the victims is given according to the nature of the damage the victim has gone through. 

The victims are mostly scarred for life, they are not only bearing the pain physically, but they are traumatized psychologically and emotionally. The weight of punishment does not compensate the damage done to the victims.

Criminals often get away with only a time to serve in the Children’s Rehabilitation centers if they are young or a maximum of 3 months of imprisonment.  

This makes the law inclined towards the criminals and acts as one of the factors to motivate the perpetrator to take risks involving acid –attack crimes. 

  • Availability of Acid

Acid is available and a cheap option for anyone wanting to buy acid. Buying or selling of acid does not require any document to be presented nor is it expensive. Acid is commonly used by mechanics to do mechanical works, drivers or even as a cleaning agent. It is also widely used in the manufacturing and textile industries. 

So, acid is easily accessible to anyone wanting to get it for any use, without being enquired or judged. This is how the perpetrator has access to their weapon and may set their intention accordingly.

How The Victims Are Affected?

Acid- attack criminals use various vessels such as a bottle, a mug or a glass to attack their targeted person. The amount of acid used is more than enough to damage the person for life. Thus, the victims usually bear long-term consequences from the acid itself. 

7 years ago 26-year-old Brindabasini Kansakar was attacked by acid. Her face was severely damaged. The person who attacked her was imprisoned for 8 years only and she received no compensation. 

  • The Financial Burden 

The cost Brindabasini has incurred is 1 crore 30 lakhs. She had 20 surgeries but the treatment is still not over. Her father had taken a business loan from the bank which she used to start her treatment. This was not enough to continue her treatment, so her family land was sold which was again not enough and her house was on loan.

Ramraja Thapa has spent a couple of months in the hospital ward and had multiple surgeries carried out, the family has already spent over Rs. 400,000 for his treatment. But his sufferings don’t end here as the doctors have said that Ramraja still has to undergo a number of surgeries in order to get back into a state where he can lead a normal life. And undoubtedly the treatment procedure requires a lot of money that the family cannot afford anymore.

According to a popular plastic surgeon Dr. Ishwar Lohani, the victims of acid-attack are mostly from lower-middle-class families and they are without compensation from the government. 

He further says, due to the thin facial skin, the surgery after acid-attack is to be done in several stages and since there is no provision of financial relief or insurance of the treatment, it becomes too expensive. 

The treatment is also only capital-centered and it goes on for years, the victims have to usually stay in the capital for long-term treatment. As their entire family has to shift from their villages to the city, the financial burden increases even more. 

According to another source, Sabin Shrestha at FWLD (Forum for Women, Law, and Development) said victims may not be able to afford the medical care they need and risk permanent damage. 

  • How does society see the survivor after the attack?

The pain of the survivor which we as the general public see on the outside is the minimum amount of suffering we have seen of them. They have to endure the emotional and psychological pain a thousand times more but that is what the people don’t see. 

People, as an audience, take the agony at face value of what the survivor shows through their physical scars. We as a society keep reminding and scarring them for life because they are scarred more in the society every time through judgments, as everyone snatches the opportunities to get out of their house, earn and live a normal and purposeful life.

Even when these brave survivors are determined to battle all the forces against them, the society and the government still does not help them in any way to rebuild their lives. This is a grave irony which is heart-wrenching for survivors.  

  • Character Assassination 

Since the majority of the victims are girls, and the reason for such heinous crimes has time and again proven to be a possible love interest. Society is quick to judge character of a women by moral and conventional standards. They justify the reason for acid attack with the type of relationship the victim might have with the criminals such as a lover, boyfriend or husband. However, we should all know that no relationship justifies violence to be a behavior be it someone from the family, a friend or a lover. 

Even if the person is a sex-worker, they still don’t lose their dignity in society and their right to get justice. Victim blaming is a widespread culture especially in Asian society, it attaches labels to the victim which is hard to break free from. So this makes many believe how the acid attack was fateful or she called this incident upon herself.  

All girl victims in Nepal have been portrayed as either having an affair with the perpetrator or the perpetrator being a ‘Pagal Premi’ even when this is not the case like in Brindabasini Kansakar’s case. She had expressed anger towards the media for romanticizing the case without knowing the truth. 

  • Beauty Standards

Our society that admires the ‘ideal standards of beauty’ accepts only what is acceptable, is toxic to everyone. The survivors are the ones most impacted by such ideologies directly.  

We should be ashamed of our standards of perfection we hold onto under the masks of being civilized citizens. Those expectations are ugly as they push these warriors deeper into their cages of dark and dangerous thoughts. 

The society suffocates the survivors through humiliation and isolation when they are trying to survive again with dignity. It happens through rejection of jobs and even our expectations of living their life within a set of boundaries, denying them of simple pleasures of platonic and intimate relationships. We determine it by limiting them of emotions of self-expression. 

What can be done to minimize Acid- Attacks?

  • Regulation of Buy/Sell of Acid 

Acid becomes a weapon when used against another person. Even a small amount of acid with high concentration is dangerous as it will melt the skin like wax.  

In India, after the case of Laxmi Agrawal, the Supreme Court there had ordered the ban of sale of acid, yet incidents of acid attacks have not decreased. 

In the UK, it’s a crime to possess acid above 15% concentration without a license. The offenders face 2 years of imprisonment and an unlimited fine.

Talk about the same in Nepal, it does not even have any policy regarding the hands-on acid. Open buy and sell of acid in shops everywhere and the cheap cost of it makes it readily available and easily accessible. This encourages acid to be the first and foremost option for any potential perpetrator. 

There is no need for acid to be readily available for the common public and the acid, which is sold at shops in an unregulated manner used for cleaning toilets, choked sewers, etc. as there are other cleaning tools that can effectively do the same job. 

There should be rules regarding the ban of acid or its regulation. The government can regulate by making it necessary to get a license regarding sale of acid and produce an official identity such as citizenship for any individual to get their hands on acid. When there is sale of acid, it should be recorded along with the customer details.  

  • Life Imprisonment for Criminals

All the victims of Acid attack demand at least life imprisonment for their perpetrators, as their scars are for lifetime. The degree of excruciating pain and all kinds of trauma they have to go through for years is negligible in comparison to the punishment given to criminals. 

Ujjwal Bikram Thapa, a social activist who has been advocating for a long time for the rights of acid-attack, reasonably explains why the criminals should have life-time imprisonment.

He says the perpetrator’s intention in case of acid attack is to destroy the victim’s life. So, the reaction of the acid should not determine the retribution. 

He condemns the Nepali legislation by saying that the Law on acid-attack is regressive. He says that Punishment should be reciprocal to the intention of the offender.  

According to him, if the victim bears less reaction to acid after the attack, it’s because of luck and not the intensity of the attack. Thus, punishment should not depend upon the victim’s luck.

What can be done to motivate the survivors?

  • Financial Support

One of the things all the victims of acid-attack go through is their hardship with their finances. Since they are mostly from backgrounds where they can’t afford their treatment. Their treatment and care also go on for years, its one of the things that they are deeply worried about. 

With really limited to no help after the 1st time of treatment, they are stressed over the financial burden over themselves and their family. Being financially weak affects them psychologically, emotionally and physically as a consequence of not having timely treatment. The treatment being expensive in itself also makes them demotivated often.  

According to BBC news, Law practioner Subin Mulmi says, “in a country like Nepal where the treatment is too expensive, the victims wouldn’t get free treatment. A separate law is necessary here which will ensure the treatment of the victims.”

Thus, along with immediate compensation from the government, they need continuous monetary support in every possible way. 

  • Life with a Meaning

In a recent interview by Ujjwal Bikram Thapa, he talks about acid attack victims needing a purpose to come out of the house and the sphere of dark thoughts. He says that having a job that pays according to their competencies is one of the things that let them feel that they have something to look forward to. We can’t agree more on that. 

  • Rehabilitation Programs 

The victims also need mental and psychological rehabilitation as any person who has been displaced from almost all privileges they had before, are hard hit in life.  It will be long before they learn to dust themselves off the trauma and live again after blocking the backslashes from the orthodox society. This is a necessity the government has failed to address. 

Last Words,

Acid-attack, emerging as revenge violence is one of the cruelest forms of violence known in modern-day. It has become a burning issue that needs more awareness. 

As in all Asian countries, Acid attack in Nepal has its roots deeply entrenched in the patriarchal mindset, due to which the repercussions are also attached to that mentality. We must therefore, focus 1st on changing these beliefs and attitudes as a progressive society paving a path to understanding the survivors and empathizing with them, only then can we move ahead. 

There are many misconceptions relating to acid attack and a proper awareness of the subject matter is a must. The government does seem to not involved in helping the victims in any way but can start off by at least providing adequate law. 

We as people in a community, need to be able to get the victims with economic assistance as much as possible as they need more aid than we would have imagined. 

 References 

Khatiwada, S. (2020, Feb 06). Legislation On Acid Attack Inadequate. Retrieved from https://risingnepaldaily.com/main-news/legislation-on-acid-attack-inadequate

Shrestha, S. Acid Akraman: ‘Upachaar Kharcha ra Phitatalo Nyayale Piditko Pida Jhan Badcha’ [Acid Attack: Treatment Cost and Weak Justice System Increases The Victim’s Pain Evermore]. BBC News, 2020. 

Kantipur TV HD. (2019, Nov 21). Muskan Khatun (Acid Attack Victim) & Ujjwal Thapa (Social Activist) [Video]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/9bQH6rQmqDA

Government Introduces Tough New Measure To Prevent Acid Attacks. (2018, Nov 1). Retrieved from https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-introduces-tough-new-measure-to-prevent-acid-attacks

Burns Violence Survivors – Nepal and Acid Survivors Trust International. (2011). Acid and Burns Violence In Nepal: A Situational Analysis. Retrieved from https://www.asti.org.uk/assets/nepal_bvsn_situational_analysis_report_final_nov2011.pdf

Forster, K. (2017, July 14). Acid Attack First Aid: What you need to do immediately to help victims. Retrieved from https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/acid-attack-first-aid-guide-what-need-to-do-help-victim-st-johns-ambulance-water-a7841476.html

Roberts, S., & Parry, L. (2018). How to Treat an Acid Attack and What to Do If You’re a Witness or Involved In an Incident. https://www.thesun.co.uk/fabulous/4016479/treat-acid-burns-advice-attack-advice-witness/

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