Regulate acid saleThe chemical has become a weapon for jilted lovers to disfigure the beloved who couldn't be theirs.
In September last year, Muskan Khatun lost her smile when she was attacked with acid when returning home from school. She may have recovered from the immediate burns, but the scars—on her body and in her mind both—remain, to memorialise the injustice a woman has to face when she hurts a criminal man's fragile ego. Had Muskan been the first and the last survivor of acid attack, what she suffered could have been considered an aberration. But hardly has she recovered from the attack when she has had to return to the Burn Centre at Kirtipur Hospital, where she was treated last year, to support Pavitra Karki, who was attacked with acid late last week.
Between Muskan and Pavitra, it was Ram Raja Thapa and Bedamati Devi who survived acid attacks. And before them, it was Jenny Khadka, Seema Basnet and Sangita Magar. In a majority of such cases, the criminal is a man taking vengeance on a woman who has rejected his romantic or sexual overtures. A smaller number of women have also used acid to disfigure men. In the past seven years alone, 19 women and three men have become survivors of acid attacks.
The fact that acid is easily available at hardware and jewellery shops makes it a go-to weapon for criminals. Criminals in several such attack incidents are reported to have bought the acids from either of these shops. The sale of acid by hardware shops as toilet cleaners should be criminalised. There are dozens of other less harmful substances available in the market that can be used as toilet cleaners. Though acids have an unquestionable scientific purpose, it is perturbing why the government fails to pay heed to the fact that its open sale continues to put citizens at risk. That a substance that is so dangerous to human lives should be available easily in the market speaks of the criminal negligence on the part of the authorities. A weapon so handy for criminals should not be available in the market so easily. The government must ban the sale of acid at such shops immediately and limit its use only to licence holders.
The Supreme Court in August last year ordered the government to regulate the sale of hydrochloric and sulphuric acids, but the latter is yet to heed order. A government that does not regulate the sale of a substance is so detrimental to the safety of citizens, especially women, is effectively a partner in the crime. One wonders if acids would be so easily available if it was mostly used by women as a weapon against men, for it is mostly the men who call the shots in the government. And the answer is a big no.The burn scars on the faces of those who have had to live as acid attack survivors are, in fact, a scar on the conscience of the Nepali society, especially successive governments that have failed to act. As the government busies itself in finding Ram's janmabhoomi within the country, it would do well to also consider turning the ideals of Ramrajya where no citizen who has knowingly or unknowingly hurt someone’s bloated ego has to live with the fear of being attacked with acid.
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