Holding a red banner that read "resist acid, save women", Dolly Begum marched slowly through the streets of Dhaka last week. Walking with her were 100 other victims of acid attacks, and following them were columns of men, expressing their commitment to end the blood-curdling crime that routinely disfigures hundreds of young women who turn down their assailants' marriage proposal across Bangladesh every year. The rally, held on the International Women's day, was indeed unprecedented—jointly organised by the Acid Survivors Foundation (ASF), a private charity, and the Bangla daily Prothom Alo, it was the first gathering on a gender issue aimed at demonstrating the collective shame and anger of Bangladeshi men.
"I find such attacks revolting," said Habibur Rahman, former Bangladesh chief justice, who was present at the rally. "This is our national shame." Bewildered at the callousness of the assailants who resort to such heinous crime, Kumar Biswajeet, a popular singer, lamented: "My heart bleeds when I look at the unfortunate girls."
The scale of the crime is so huge, the law too is taking a second look. The rally was organised in the backdrop of Bangladesh Parliament passing the Restriction of Acid Sale Bill to regulate the retailing of the 'deadly liquid'. Parliament also passed on Wednesday night (March 13) the Prevention of Acid Violence Bill, 2002, which mandates that an acid attack case must be decided within 90 days. That these legal measures are needed sorely was underlined at the rally, devastated as the participants were at the sight of the horribly disfigured and scarred faces of the 100 young women.
Take the case of 14-year-old Dolly Begum, a sprightly, plump girl, who had aspired to become a doctor. Last year, on a dark, rainy night, as Dolly lay asleep at her home in Chak Dakatia, her ancestral village in northern Bogra...