Sangita Magar had just been brought in, her head disfigured and crying in pain. She was 16 when a young man threw acid at her during an SLC tuition class in Kathmandu.
Thapa’s world shook as he pictured his three daughters in Sangita’s place. “I could not bear looking at her. I could only see my daughters in her place,” he recalls. “This was the first time in my life I felt so helpless.”
Thapa decided to turn his outrage into action, and his appeals to then Prime Minister Lokendra Chand and Home Minister Bamdev Gautam secured free treatment for Sangita, who went on to finish her SLC exam and get free college education at Nobel Academy.
The new legislation will now allow survivors like Sangita to have the government cover lifetime treatment costs, and her nasal reconstruction surgery that will cost Rs1.8 million will also be possible. Her nose was so badly burnt by the acid that surgeons grafted tissue from her thigh to allow her to breathe through her left ear.
“After seven years, Sangita will not have to breathe through her ear again, she can breathe through her nose,” Thapa says.
Bindabasini Kansakar had Rs70 worth of acid thrown at her, but her medical treatment so far has cost Rs20 million. Says Thapa: “The shopkeeper who sold the acid must have made just Rs20 profit on that bottle. With the new law, he will not be able to sell acid so easily.”
In September 2018, Samjhana and Sushmita Das had acid splashed on them by a neighbour in Rautahat district. Samjhana had nearly 50% burns and her skin had melted away. Sushmita’s injuries were less serious.
Samjhana fought for life, but died 12 days later, the hospital would not let her family take her body until they paid the bills. “I made a promise to Samjhana’s soul that day I would not rest until these crimes are stopped,” Thapa says.
Jenny Khadka was attacked with acid by husband Bishnu Bhujel in May 2019 after a quarrel. She was taken to the burns hospital in Kirtipur. The crime on Khadka had been in the media headlines, and Thapa remembers a 12-year-old girl greeting him at the hospital entrance giving him an envelope and saying: “Ujjwal Sir, this is for Jenny’s treatment.”
Before he could ask her anything more, she disappeared. He opened the envelope to find Rs21. Thapa is emotional relating this incident.
Thapa was awarded Nepal’s Social Service Medal on Constitution Day last month, but he says the real prize will be won by Nepalis the day the legislation comes into full effect.