Due to her critical condition, Sangita was referred to KMC Hospital, where doctors managed to save her life but not her face. After many surgical procedures in the past four years, despite bouts of depression and fear of facing people, Sangita is now an undergraduate and has become a social activist supporting other survivors of acid attacks in Nepal.
Unlike most victims who are reclusive and unwilling to talk, Sangita is confident and forthright. The more outspoken she is in public, the more Sangita feels she can be effective in exposing the misogyny and violence that lies at the root of the crime committed against her.
She also wants to set the media right for how unfairly reporters treated her and her family after the acid attack. She breaks down in tears as she recalls reporters bombarding her with personal questions and forcing her to relive her trauma, even blaming her for the attack.
“So many journalists came to interview me, and they all asked questions in a very insensitive manner that were difficult to answer,” she recalls. “I could feel my pain and suffering get worse.”
A few days after the attack, police tracked down Sangita’s attacker Jiwan B K and produced him before the media. B K was unrepentant, telling reporters he carried out the acid attack to seek revenge against the Magar family for having mistreated him because he was a Dalit. Some in the media insinuated that Sangita and Jiwan were having an affair and that she had rejected him because of his caste.
Sangita has had four years to analyse Jiwan’s motive, and thinks it all started with a dispute over a toilet shared by several families living in her neighbourhood. Jiwan B K had an altercation with Sangita’s brother Santosh over the use of the bathroom, and the dispute escalated, leading Jiwan to take revenge on the girl.
Sangita’s friend Sima Basnet, who was slightly injured in the attack, is now in India and will soon graduate in political science. Both the girls now want to devote their lives to helping victims of acid attacks by providing counselling, ensuring justice is done, and by addressing the roots of the crime in Nepal’s patriarchal mores.
Meanwhile, Chameli Magar blames herself for perhaps not doing enough to protect her daughter that fateful morning four years ago. She was told she should have poured milk on Sangita instead of water to neutralise the acid, which she did not know then.
Chameli was initially worried that Sangita would give up studies and work as a cleaner like herself. She supported her daughter as she overcame bouts of depression during her recovery, and encouraged her to go out more.
“I never got a chance to learn how to read and write,” says Chameli. “I now clean other people’s homes for a living, I don’t want my daughter to end up like me. I am proud of her for supporting other victims, in the same way that many of us provided her with emotional support after the attack.”
Thanks to her mother, Sangita has gained confidence to venture out, return to school and advocate for change. She wants the sale of acid in shops to be strictly controlled and is lobbying the health ministry to create a separate facility for acid burn patients, so they get specialised care.
Sangita’s activism has inspired many people in Nepal and abroad, and has turned her into a role model. Many acid attack survivors have reached out to her. Sangita says she does not want people’s pity but to join her struggle for justice.
Section 193 of the Criminal Code, which came into effect in August 2018, states that acid attackers will be fined up to Rs300,000 and/or be jailed 5-8 years depending on the seriousness of the attack. If the victim dies, the culprit faces a murder charge.
Sangita wants the punishment to be more stringent, and the law to be amended to include payment for the victim’s treatment as well as compensation. For now, her family’s main worry is that Jiwan is getting out of jail soon, and that he may attack again.