It was raining hard that Tuesday night on 11 September in Chandrapur of Rautahat. In the Das family home, teenage sisters Samjhana and Sushmita told their parents they were going to bed.
The thatched roof, single-storey house had three rooms, one where the two sisters slept and another for their step-mother and younger sister. Their father, Jadolal Das, and his son walked to the family’s pool room that they rented to locals.
Sushmita remembers being woken up about midnight by her sister’s screams. Then she felt a burning pain in her own hands and body. Neighbours rushed to the house on hearing the sisters’ cries, their step-mother was confused and did not know why the two were screaming.
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After the neighbours figured out that this was an acid attack, they took the sisters to a tap and washed the burns. The girls were rushed to Kirtipur Hospital in Kathmandu after a local hospital said treatment was not possible.
Both sisters writhed in pain throughout the bumpy seven hour ride all night to reach Kathmandu at 9AM. Sushmita remembers her sister’s blistered face contorted in pain, and her hair scalded. “I was so scared the whole time,” she said.
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The burn ward in Kritipur Hospital reeked of disinfectant. Sushmita was at the corner of the ward with bandages on her right hand and neck. Her sister lay bandaged and covered in a blanket in the Intensive Care Unit nearby.
The heart monitor was beeping, and there was the sound of rough breathing. A visitor called out her name. She replied “hajur” in a trembling voice. It was too painful for her to talk. She had burns over 35% of her body, including her head, chest, back and face.
Plastic surgeon Surendra Basnet had already performed one operation on Samjhana that morning, but warned the prognosis was not good.
The nurses were dressing Sushmita’s wounds, which were not as serious. She was crying, praying for her sister. “I did not even know what acid was, I did not know it could burn you like that,” she said, in a weak voice.
Outside, in the corridor was the girls’ father Jadolal Das. But also hovering around making phone calls and holding hospital bills was a neighbour, Rambabu Paswan. When quizzed about his relation with the family he said: “I am a neighbour, but I am like a father to the girls. I watched them grow up.”
Asked if he suspected anyone, Paswan told us Jadolal Das had a long-standing feud about property with his elder brother. He added: “She had just straightened her hair a few days ago, and was looking very pretty, I cannot believe she will not look like that anymore.”
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The sisters’ mother, whom Jadolal Das had divorced, was working in Malaysia. Samjhana had dropped out of Grade 10, and Sushmita was in Grade 8. The family had some savings, but friends in Chandrapur raised money for the sisters’ treatment.
A few days after Nepali Times visited the hospital, police arrested Rambabu Paswan, the neighbour who had told us the sisters were “like daughters to me”. Police found that he had made 180 calls to Samjhana over the fortnight prior to the attack. Samjhana confirmed to her father that Paswan was the attacker, and he would call her often to propose sex. (See box.)
On Monday 24 September, at the age of 18, Samjhana died of multiple organ failure. Doctors had performed three surgeries, and although they tried their best, they could not save her life. She was taken back to Chandrapur and cremated on the banks of the Bagmati, the same river that flows down from Kathmandu Valley.
Another day, Another acid attack
On the very day that Samjhana Das died because of her burns in a Kathmandu hospital after ten agonising days, Basanti Pariyar was coming home from Kawasoti market of Nawalparasi when she was attacked with acid and stabbed multiple times. The mother of two was set upon by her neighbour, Bimal Sripali, 37, and she is being treated at Bharatpur Hospital for stab wounds in her abdomen and head and acid burn injuries in her face, chest and hands.
Police said Sripali had started divorce proceedings against his wife, and may have been making advances on Pariyar, 26, which she rejected. Basanti was with her sister and another woman when they passed Sripali, who grabbed her by the hair and poured acid on her face. Sripali has confessed to the crime, and said he went to Birganj to buy the acid.
On the same day in Pokhara, Shriya Sunar, 10, was found dead in Kodi village. She had gone to the market to buy biscuits. The post-mortem report states that the girl was raped, choked and hit on the head with stones. A Kusum Poudel, 27, and four other suspects have been arrested. Poudel confessed to the crime, and said he was drunk and stoned. Two days earlier, in faraway Jumla, a teenage girl was raped while returning home from festival. The police caught two teenage suspects.
A Nepali Times investigation shows 479 girls and women have been attacked or raped in less than three months all over Nepal (see map, above). But those are just the ones reported to police, the real figure may be higher.
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Total rape and attempted rape cases 17 July to 28 September 2018 in province 1, 3 and 4.
Update: Total rape and attempted rape cases 17 July to 28 September 2018 in Kathmandu Valley
A father's story
I own a Pool Centre which is about a kilometre away from the house. My son and I sleep there because there isn’t enough room at home. That night, I said bye to my family after dinner and left for the pool room with my son. It was raining heavily and I could barely sleep because of the noise on the roof. At midnight, I got a frantic call from my wife and all I could hear were her cries. I woke up my son and we rushed home.
The room was full of a smoky, stinky smell. I saw the dread in the faces of my daughters. I had no idea what had happened there. The neighbours had already called an ambulance, but it was late so I took my injured daughters in a borrowed scooter to nearest Chakor Hospital.
For two hours, the doctors applied medicines and bandages on the burns, but then suggested that I take them to Kathmandu. An ambulance driver helped me out. The doctors gave my daughters painkillers and we drove off at 3AM.
Rambabu Paswan, my neighbour insisted that he come along. It took us seven hours to reach Kathmandu and my daughters were finally sent to the operating rooms. Sushmita had suffered 4% burns in her body, but Samjhana had 35% and was kept in the ICU. I wept when I saw her there.
The Rautahat police called me up after a few days and asked me about the relationship of my daughter with Rambabu Paswan. I said we were neighbours, but the police sounded suspicious. They told me he had called her 180 times in the 15 days before the attack, but that his phone was now switched off. So, in the hospital in Kathmandu, I asked Paswan where his phone was, and he said he had lost it while sleeping outside the ICU.
The next day, detectives found acid burn marks on Paswan’s fingers. I went to the ICU and asked Samjhana if Paswan was the culprit. She nodded, “Yes.” She told me haltingly how Paswan used to stalk her, and call repeatedly to proposition her.
Paswan was arrested from the premises of the hospital in Kathmandu the next day, but that was no consolation for us. Samjhana died. We took her back to her hometown for her funeral so her friends could say their last goodbye. All I want now is for Paswan to be punished. Why is the government not doing anything when crimes like these are happening every day to daughters like Samjhana?
(As told to Monika Deupala)
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