LAHORE: Pakistan is facing a rapid increase in the reported number of acid throwing attacks. The most recent one took place in Multan when a woman threw acid on a man, who is struggling for his life. While the society is calling for a change in the mindset that allows such attacks to happen and for severe punishment against this hateful crime; a simple aspect is often ignored. That the tool (acid) of this misery can easily be bought for a few rupees in any of the local stores and markets.

Commenting on the issue, human rights activist Bushra Khaliq said that it shocks her that a material that is used for one of the most unforgivable social crimes is so easily available in the markets. “There is no check on the sale of acid. It is available in stores and markets across the country. It is a deplorable act. The government should take notice of the situation and order a crackdown on its illegal sale,” Bushra was of the view.

Highlighting the legal significance of acid attacks, advocate Sheraz Zaka stated that the Supreme Court has set made special tribunals for the hearing of such cases, under the Provisions of the 1997 Act. “Also, the attacker can be charged of terrorist activity under the Anti-Terrorism Act and if proven guilty, can be imprisoned for life,” he said.

Used as a cleaning liquid in our homes, these locally manufactured products contain highly concentrated amounts of sulfuric acid. Such a concentrated mixture can easily cause severe skin damage and burns and should always be handled with care. But its use in domestic crime begs the question why should we keep buying and selling these products when we have better options available?

Ashfaq Ahmad, a common user, argued that he only uses the cleaning acids for household purposes and has never bought the product with any violent intention in his mind. “So, it is just another case of a few people giving a bad name to the majority; who is not responsible for those horrendous crimes,” he maintained.

This aspect is usually ignored while selling this product especially when a litre of acid can be bought for less than a hundred rupees. Literally anyone, even a child, can simply walk up to the shopkeeper and buy this harmful product in the name of household use. Furthermore, it should be noted that these products come with no precautions and list of ingredients. The amount of sulfuric and hydrochloric acid they contain is kept a secret. Even a simple caution of ‘handle with care’ is often missing between the space taken up by the name of the product and the company’s logo.

Tauqeer Ahmed, a shopkeeper in Johar Town, insists that he has to go along with the demands and preference of the customers as he is simply the ‘middle-man’ in this process of supply and demand.

“Any material that can be used for such violent purposes should be monitored and banned by the state. If the state ensures that this material cannot be bought, other than for industrial use, then we might see a significant decrease in the number of acid throwing cases,” Bushra said.  She also urged the state to ensure the safety of women as they are the common targets of such attacks in our male dominant society. She also appeared satisfied by the state’s recent vigilant role in prosecuting the acid attack cases and handing deserving punishments to the guilty.

While the mindset of the society surely needs to be changed, regulating the sale of household acid may yet reduce the number of cases and by putting it out of the reach of the common man might also help us significantly in getting rid of this social evil. Because after all, prevention is always better than cure.