In late March, a 19-year-old girl in Bangladesh told police that the headmaster at her madrassah had sexually harassed her, prompting his arrest. After the video of her statement was leaked to social media, she was burned to death on the roof of her school by a group of people, some of whom she identified as fellow students before she died.
As the BBC reports, Nusrat Jahan Rafi, who hailed from the small town of Feni and came from a conservative religious family, said that on March 27 she was called to the headmaster’s office. She claimed later that the headmaster, Ud Doula, had touched her in inappropriate ways, prompting her to flee. That very day, she went to the police, where she offered a statement that was videotaped by the police officer in charge.
Buzzfeed News reported, “The police officer is heard saying it’s ‘not a big deal’ and telling her to ‘move your hands from the face, stop crying, nothing happened that you have to cry.’” The video was later leaked to local media.
The headmaster was arrested that day, but then male students launched a protest demanding he be released. From there things got worse for the girl; people blamed her instead of the headmaster.
On April 6, Nusrat braved the hostility and went to school for her final exams, accompanied by her brother. He said later, “I tried to take my sister to school and tried to enter the premises, but I was stopped and wasn’t allowed to enter. If I hadn’t been stopped, something like this wouldn’t have happened to my sister.”
Nusrat stated before she died that she was lured to the roof of the school by a fellow female student who claimed a friend was being assaulted. But when Nusrat reached the roof, according to the BBC, “four or five people, wearing burqas, surrounded her and allegedly pressured her to withdraw the case against the headmaster. When she refused, they drenched her with kerosene and set her on fire.” Nusrat was rescued, but too late; by the time she reached the hospital, 80% of her body was burned, a situation so severe that she was taken from the local hospital to Dhaka Medical College Hospital. En route, she recorded a statement on her brother’s phone, identifying the students who attacked her and saying, “The teacher touched me. I will fight this crime till my last breath.”
Nusrat died on April 10; 15 people have been arrested in connection with the incident. The Guardian reported, “Two young men have confessed to involvement in Nusrat’s killing. They include a man who admitted to having a grudge against her for refusing his own advances.”
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina asserted, “None of the culprits will be spared from legal action.” Salma Ali, former director of the Women Lawyers’ Association, added, “When a woman tries to get justice for sexual harassment, she has to face a lot of harassment again. The case lingers for years, there is shaming in society, a lack of willingness from police to properly investigate the allegations. It leads the victim to give up on seeking justice. Ultimately the criminals don’t get punished and they do the same crime again. Others don’t fear to do the same because of such examples.”