“Do you have acid?”
I asked this question to the departmental store in my area from where I buy most of my groceries and other household items. I know the person pretty well- the usual acquaintance you develop with someone with whom you interact on a regular basis. I know his name, he knows my name- and not much. We have been friends for past three years or so, and he comes across as a nice amiable person, who sells items to me even on credit. He trusts me for sure.
“Yes.” he replied back.
“How much is the acid for?” I asked, trying to build a conversation over acid.
“It is for Rs 30 a litre.” he answered back, absorbed in his day to day work, dealing with some other customer.
I stood there, thinking how easy it is to buy a litre of acid. Every day so many acid attackers must be buying it from a convenience store in India, in other countries, and so many other places. Everyday.
Then he looked at me, and smiled. “I do not sell to everybody. It is banned. But I sell it to people I know.” It was essentially a friendly gesture. And if I had to clean my bathroom, I would have been grateful to him for this.
“Why is it banned?” I asked, trying to give a proper direction to the conversation.
“Because of the attacks that have taken place recently. Few girls were attacked with acid.” he informed me.
“Then is it allowed to sell it like this? If it is banned then why are you selling it?”
“A valid identity proof is required to sell. So if anyone buys, he has to produce an identity card. We keep it for record purposes. But you do not need to produce it.” And I wonder how much he knows me. He is being extremely generous, and he must be generous with at least hundred more men in the colony.
“But is it a harmful acid? It must be a diluted one.” I am getting into the details of the matter now.
“No. It is also harmful. One day this acid fell on my finger,” he shows his one finger to me, “and it burnt. It was very painful. And it was only a drop of acid. Just imagine what a litre of acid can do?” he asks me.
“In that case you must not sell it. See it is also harmful for you.” I try to make him understand the situation. He smiles back to me, and listens to another customer.
He exactly knows what a litre of acid can do. But still he sells it. Acids are sold as toilet cleaners in India. It is cheaper than the branded Harpic, or other products. It is much more strong than these products, and can ‘clean’ the toilet in seconds. This makes it a popular product among the masses.
By now all the customers are gone from the shop. I have been there for less than five minutes. He discusses random things with me- like films, cricket et cetera.
“Actually I know these people who are running this campaign to stop acid sale in retail shops.” I tell him, trying to conclude the conversation.
“I have seen this girl on Satyamev Jayate. I am forgetting her name…” he tries to remember.
“Yes. She is the one who took the strong step. She is very strong.” he tells me. “We never sell it to unknown people. Anybody can attack anybody these days. It is not good.”
I smile back, and leave the shop after buying some regular items for home.
I have few unanswered questions left. He knows it all- the laws, the ban, about the campaign and et all. He is even sensitive enough not to sell the product to unknown people. But what about the known people. According to the statistics, and available information, in most of the cases the perpetrator is arrested. But it is the victim who goes through the unending cycle of pain. Most of the perpetrators attack in order to satisfy their ego, which is much bigger than somebody’s life.
While having the conversation, I asked him who told him about the requirement of identity proof to buy acid. Was it the police? He said it was not the police, but he read it in newspaper.
What about those who do not read newspapers? Do we have enough sensitising programs for the sellers of the acid in our country? If not, then we need it- as soon as possible.
This article was first published on LokMarg on May 14, 2015