The issue of acid attacks might be in the limelight nowadays, but the Rawalpindi administration has done little to curb the open sale of acids in the district.
Easy access to various acids and chemicals in the open market and the apparent absence of any regulation on its sale are among the many reasons contributing to increasing acid crimes.
On April 20, a trial court awarded death sentence to a man for throwing acid on a woman who died of acid burns. Her only ‘crime’ was refusing to marry him. Information obtained from the district prosecution branch revealed that the RA Bazaar police did not investigate where the acid was purchased from.
In another recent case, a woman named Yasmin lodged an FIR with the Pirwadhai police stating she was attacked with acid by former husband. The police are yet to capture the suspect.
As victims wait for justice, precious little is being done to make the availability of acid to every purchaser harder. Pirwadhai Police Station in-charge Malik Tahir Ahmed admitted that acids are openly available in the area.
But what might be of more cause for concern is that no one is willing to accept responsibility for overlooking acid sales.
Civil Defence District Officer Tayyamam Raza said his department is responsible only for ensuring safety measures taken at the sale points of different acids.
“The dealer is required to get an NOC from civil defence showing that he has taken the required safety measures to sell the acids. After getting the NOC, if a dealer violates the rules, he will first receive a warning and later the business could be sealed,” said Raza.
Rawalpindi Excise Director Sohail Arshad said his office only had the power to allow or cancel licences to sell spirits and oils. He categorically denied that his department had anything to do with the acid trade and said he was unsure of who had to provide oversight.
In Rawalpindi, acids can be easily bought from Hamilton Road, Ghazni Road, Bagh Sardaran, Bangash Colony, Pirwadhai, Dhoke Dalal, Kurri Road, Adamjee Road and Misrial Road.
Rawalpindi District Coordination Officer (DCO) Saqib Zaffar said he would “soon” order a detailed survey on the sale of acids in the city and assured that violators would be dealt with under the existing laws.
According to Acid Survivors Foundation (ASF) around acid crimes are committed annually in the country, mostly in southern Punjab and northern Sindh. Of them 70% of acid crime victims are women.
The government recently passed the Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention law and some individuals like Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and Daniel Junge were honoured with an Academy Award for their documentary, “Saving Face”. However, awareness at grassroots level still has a long way to go.
“Easy availability of acids can encourage [acid crimes],” said Advocate Shehryar Lodhi, who works with acid survivors. He recommended severe punishments and putting the offences under anti-terror laws.
Elaborating on the laws regulating the sale of acids, Lodhi said every acid dealer has to get a licence from the district administration to deal in the commodity, but “over 90% of the trade in the city is being done illegally”.
A District Civil Defence Department official, asking not to be named, said laws to regulate the sale of acids in the open market do exist, but the authorities seem oblivious to them.
Traders themselves have managed to create obstacles in regulation too. A district government official told The Express Tribune that last summer, the Civil Defence started a campaign against unauthorised dealers but the Rawalpindi Chamber of Commerce intervened to protect them.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 14th, 2012.