A “personal enmity” is reportedly the reason behind the acid attack on two schoolgirls which has raised concerns about women’s safety in Nepal, according to Mr. Uttam Kumar Karki, Senior Superintendent of Police, Central Investigation Bureau (CIB).
“Investigations into who is behind the crime are still ongoing, no arrests have been made so far,” he added.
An unidentified man had thrown a bottle of acid on two teenagers – Sangita Magar and Sima Basnet – waiting for their class to begin at a tuition center, early this week in Kathmandu. The assailant managed to flee the crime scene. Investigators released a sketch on Wednesday depicting the man wanted in connection with the attack on the basis of victims’ testimonials.
Chameli Magar, the mother of one of the two victims, said that the offender ruined her daughter’s life. Sangita Magar, 16, has acid burns on 15 percent of her body. She has sustained serious injuries to the face, abdomen, chest, right hand and legs.
“The police must find and punish the culprit. If not, this incidence will encourage other criminals to use acid attacks as a form of revenge,” Chameli Magar told The Baltic Review.
Sangita’s parents make a living working as street vendors and for catering services. They earn, on average, less than 150 dollars a month.
“I am illiterate; I am proud of my daughter for wanting to sit her final examination despite everything she is going through,” Chameli Magar said from her daughter’s hospital bed. Sangita can barely move and the agony will persist for months, doctors said.
In Nepal, acid attacks against women and girls remain a largely neglected issue, with few policies in place to prevent and address it.
According to the law currently in force, a person who uses acid on others is liable, based on the degree of disfigurement of the victim, to two months to three years in jail and only $5-50 in fines.
Renu Rajbhandari, chairperson of the Women’s Rehabilitation Centre (WOREC), who has worked with several victims of acid attack, finds such punitive measures “ridiculous”.
“Acid attacks should be treated as attempted murder. Such offences – some people might argue – are worst than death”.
Rajbhandari told The Baltic Review that back in 2008, a serious case involving an acid attack in Southern Nepal was filed at the Supreme Court, which eventually ordered to revise the existing law. Nepalese people, however, are still waiting for a change to come; “a substantial transformation in how acid attacks are being treated at judicial level seems far from reality,” Rajbhandari said.
“In the 2008 acid attack, the culprits were not even caught and the victim received no financial compensation from the government. That young woman was totally disfigured,” she added.
Following this week’s acid attack, Nepali citizens have been gathering to the site of the incident demanding justice; stressing the importance of working with communities to change harmful social attitudes that discriminate and tolerate violence against women.
The National Human Rights Commission has urged the government to take steps against gender-based violence, take care of the victims’ medical bills and control the sale and use of corrosive agents like acid.
Burns Violence Survivors (BVS) Nepal is currently supporting the two schoolgirls with counseling and will receive funds from the Government of Nepal for their surgeries.On the occasion of the International Women’s Day 2015, various concert and programmes are being organized in support of the victims.