The survivors often lose their sight and are maimed because the acid burns through the skin down to the bone. They suffer months of excruciating pain even if they do not survive, like Samjhana Das, who died on Monday two weeks after an acid attack. Her 15-year-old younger sister, Sushmita Das, was also injured. A neighbour, Rambabu Paswan, has confessed he used acid on them because Samjhana had rejected him.
Three years ago in the heart of Kathmandu, a fellow-student squirted acid on a class mate, and because it happened in the capital, the crime got wide play in the media. When the perpetrator was finally caught, it turned out to be a case of someone taking revenge against the girl’s family, who lived next door, for being taunted for being a Dalit.
The case illustrates how in Nepal there are layers upon layers of pent-up grievances against injustice and discrimination. Stricter measures on the purchase of acid, and monitoring its use may be a deterrence, but as long as the root causes of gender-based violence remain, potential perpetrators will simply use another tool to attack girls and women.
There is also urgent action needed to make the laws against acid attacks at least as strict, if not stricter than the ones for rape, bride-burning and other heinous crimes against women. At the moment, perpetrators only get a maximum of eight years in jail if convicted of carrying out an acid attack.
Violence against women is a manifestation of the pervasive patriarchy in our culture. Misogyny is sanctioned by religious texts, folklore, movies, songs. Insulting women is taken as a joke. We have to look deeply inwards as a society to question values that we as a people seem to have come to accept as normal.
Despite the new Constitution, the scale of justice in Nepal is still skewed. The persistence of gender based violence is the result of pervasive impunity, where men, powerful people, upper castes, urban dwellers, appear to have more protection from prosecution for crimes than women, lower castes, the poor, and weak.
It should be the state’s responsibility — to protect with prevention, investigation and justice — the most vulnerable section of society. Alas, in our case, it is the most influential who are protected.
It is meaningless to boast that Nepal’s Parliament has one of the highest representation of women in the world when we have such a poor record in granting women equal citizenship rights, and in protecting our mothers and sisters against crimes.
Read also: ‘Daughter Slaughter‘, Monica Deupala
The roots of Rape, Kedar Sharma
Republic of Rape