KATHMANDU, Nov 8: A burns victim suffers extremely painful and appalling injuries. Burns Violence Survivors Nepal (BVS-Nepal) aims at providing respite to the victims of such injuries by offering support in the form of medicine, counsel and nutrition. Working since 2008, BVS-Nepal has recently branched out to Nepalgunj and is planning to set up an office at Janakpur.
“Since the majority of the burns cases come out of the Tarai region, these offices will help us be more effective,” says Rumi Rajbhandari, 26, program coordinator, while explaining the work done by BVS-Nepal.
How does the organization identify a burns survivor? And where does BVS-Nepal come in?
We have a good network with hospitals and local NGOs who identify survivors for us. Also, we have staffs on the field as well as survivors who bring us news about victims. As soon as we identify a patient, we start by making enquiries about what happened. Then we proceed to hospital care; we bring them to Kathmandu if required or they are taken to the nearest hospital.
We’ve been working with Bir Hospital for a long time now and also with Kanti Children’s Hospital. The majority of burns cases come to Bir as it’s the only hospital that takes in patients with more than 60 per cent of burns.
Initially when we started, we were only supporting them with nutrition and physiotherapy. Now we focus on providing the patients with nutrition, medical support, physiotherapy, counseling and surgery.
How many patients do you support in a month?
The number of patients we support is never static, of course. There are eight beds in Bir and we’re always supporting either two or three patients there while out of the 22 beds in Kanti, we help six to 10 children there. Burns patients need high nutrition and since most of the patients that we support are not economically strong, we help by providing nutrition baskets. We distribute our nutrition baskets to the entire burns unit at Bir twice a month and every week at Kanti.
What are some of the reasons behind the burns incidents?
The majority of the victims are women with only a handful of men coming in for burns treatment. The cases with children are rising. The women state that it’s accidental. However, after deep counseling they open up and speak about being burnt or even attempting suicide due to domestic problems, most common being not giving birth to a male child, dowry issues and being accused of witchcraft. But they prefer to claim that it’s an accident rather than face the long and thankless process of filing a case against the perpetrator. Of course, with only a handful of cases seeing justice, the women don’t want to accuse their spouses and in-laws.
You said children’s burns cases are also rising. What could be the reason?
The beds in Kanti are almost always occupied during winter. Recently it was the kites that were bringing children to the hospital. While flying them, they touch the electric wires and get burnt. We just had four children whose hands will have to be amputated. In villages, parents leave their children near the aagena and go to tend their fields. The children roll over and burn themselves. Parents have to be really careful. And not every incident involving a child is accidental. A couple of months ago, we encountered a case where an 11-year-old had attempted suicide. Apparently, her father was an alcoholic who would abuse her mother, and the child couldn’t bear that. She only revealed that it was a suicide attempt after deep counseling.
What are the basic steps that one needs to remember if caught on fire?
First of all, we want people to know that running when one is on fire is a wrong move. We urge them to remember four basic moves; stop, drop, roll, cover. If your hand is burnt, soak it in cold water for around 20 minutes to minimize the degree of the burn. Remember to switch off the gas cylinder at night.
Awareness is important and we are staging street dramas to spread the knowledge. We also have a jingle that airs on Radio Nepal, we distribute posters and mobilize volunteers to go to schools with our messages.
How difficult do the burns survivors find it to reestablish themselves back in the society?
While a beating might only leave bruises, burns leave deep scars and lasting trauma in the survivors. They suffer from emotional and physical inferiority because they could be missing a finger or a hand. The way people perceive them changes. They notice that people stare at them every time they venture out and are even asked questions. And like it or not, job prospects are many times based on a person’s appearance and the survivors might be denied that. These things come together to make reestablishment difficult for them.
BVS- Nepal is not directly involved in rehabilitation of the survivors right now. What we do, however, is direct them to Saathi Nepal.
Do the survivors go back to their spouses and in-laws afterward?
Many of them make up their minds to live separately. Those who go back are treated well by their husbands. Perhaps husbands fear repercussions now. And most often, it’s the girl’s parents who urge their daughter to compromise and live with their husbands.
What are the legal provisions for a burns survivor seeking justice?
There are many cases in Nepal, but they’re just not out in the open. Since there’s no data regarding burns victims, we at BVS- Nepal did a situational analysis. When we visited Nepalgunj for data, we were told at the police station that such incidents do not happen. It was only during our visits to the VDCs that we uncovered many of the cases.
The parties try to settle for mutual understanding and compromise rather than going to court. If a case is filed, the perpetrator gets only six to ten months of jail time or gets off by paying just compensation. We want to advocate a special law for burns victims in Nepal and we’re trying to get compensation as well as justice for the victim.