Today, Sima Basnet’s life turned upside down.
Sima was studying at a tuition center for her final examination, when a man opened the door and splashed acid on her face.
“I felt an intense burning. I knew from an Indian TV show that I had to pour water on my face to prevent the liquid melting my skin,” she told The Baltic Review from her hospital bed in Kathmandu, recalling the acid attack.
Police officers said the motives behind the brutal aggression remain unknown. Her friend Sangita Magar, 16, was reportedly the “target of the attack”, and she is said to be in critical condition. From petty quarrels to rejection in love, reasons provoking acid attacks are varied.
“I did not call the police; I run home as fast as I could while my friend was taken to the hospital by her parents,” recounts 15-year-old Sima.
The first few hours following an attack are considered the most important ones. With acid, the burning continues ‘dissolving’ the skin until it is neutralized. In countries such as Nepal attacks are believed to cause greater damage.
“Our daughter didn’t receive proper treatment even five hours after the attack,” Sangita’s family members said.
Acid violence rarely kills but it scars you for life. Experts say that women and girls are victims in 75-80 percent of cases. Of the female victims, about 30 percent are under 18. Acid attacks appear to bedisproportionately common in South Asia, according to the Acid Survivors Trust International. The prevalence of attacks in the region can be explained by the easy availability of acid which can be found “at the corner store and as cheap as 30 cents a litre”.
As far as Nepal is concerned, there is no concrete and reliable data. Most acid attacks are not reported and often remain unheard. Representatives of the Women’s Rehabilitation Centre (Worec), said that survivors receive little support to access criminal and legal justice systems. Victims seeking justice face numerous legal hurdles and most are forced to drop criminal charges.
Quality medical care is not always an option. Dr. Peeyush Dahal, chief at the burn unit at Bir hospital in Kathmandu, said that acid injury patients are more likely to slip into depression, yet hardly any of the hospitals in the country have hired counselling experts for acid victims.
But with an undying spirit Sima refuses to let circumstances overpower her. “I ’ve always wanted to become a singer and I will not live in fear.”
Sima comes from a village in Nepal’s Terai region. She moved to Kathmandu together with her grandmother four years ago to continue her studies. Her mother works in Patna, India, while her father was gone when she was still in the cradle. She said that her grandmother means everything to her.
“I just wanted my granddaughter to have a good education; I never thought that this could happen,” Sima’s grandmother said.
Although acid attacks are now a criminal offence in neighbouring India, there are no specific laws addressing them in Nepal.
“I want some kind of justice, but I will go on with my life, no matter what. This is my message to all the girls and women out there; don’t give up,” Sima said, smiling, despite the burns.