19-year-old student Nusrat Jahan Rafi burnt to death in Bangladesh two weeks after she filed sexual harassment complaint against her headmaster

A schoolgirl was burned to death in Bangladesh on the orders of her head teacher after she reported him for sexually harassing her, police said Friday.

19-year-old Nusrat was from Feni, a small town 100 miles (160km) south of Dhaka and was studying at a madrassa, ( Islamic school)

The death of 19-year-old Nusrat Jahan Rafi last week sparked protests across the South Asian nation, with the prime minister promising to prosecute all those involved.

Nusrat Jahan Rafi was doused with kerosene and set on fire at her school in Bangladesh. Less than two weeks earlier, she had filed a sexual harassment complaint against her headmaster.

Rafi was lured to the rooftop of the Islamic seminary she attended where her attackers asked her to withdraw the sexual harassment complaint she had filed with police.When she refused, she was doused in kerosene and set on fire.

Nusrat went to the police with the help of her family on the day the alleged abuse happened. At the local police station she gave a statement. She should have been provided with a safe environment to recall her traumatic experiences. Instead she was filmed by the officer in charge on his phone as she described the ordeal.

In the video Nusrat is visibly distressed and tries to hide her face with her hands. The policeman is heard calling the complaint “no big deal” and telling her to move her hands from her face. The video was later leaked to local media.

Nusrat Jahan Rafi was from a small town, came from a conservative family, and went to a religious school. For a girl in her position, reporting sexual harassment can come with consequences. Victims often face judgement from their communities, harassment, in person and online, and in some cases violent attacks. Nusrat went on to experience all of these.

On 27 March, after she went to the police, they arrested the headmaster. Things then got worse for Nusrat. A group of people gathered in the streets demanding his release. The protest had been arranged by two male students and local politicians were allegedly in attendance. People began to blame Nusrat. Her family say they started to worry about her safety.

According to a statement given by Nusrat, a fellow female student took her to the roof of the school, saying one of her friends was being beaten up. When Nusrat reached the rooftop four or five people, wearing burqas, surrounded her and allegedly pressured her to withdraw the case against the headmaster. When she refused, they set her on fire.

Police Bureau of Investigation chief Banaj Kumar Majumder said the killers wanted “to make it look like a suicide”. Their plan failed when Nusrat was rescued after they fled the scene. She was able to give a statement before she died.

“One of the killers was holding her head down with his hands, so kerosene wasn’t poured there and that’s why her head wasn’t burned,” Mr Majumder told BBC Bengali.

But when Nusrat was taken to a local hospital, doctors found burns covering 80% of her body. Unable to treat the burns, they sent her to Dhaka Medical College Hospital.
In the ambulance, fearing she might not survive, she recorded a statement on her brother’s mobile phone.

Police have since arrested 17 people, seven of them allegedly involved in the murder. Among those arrested are the two male students who organised the protest in support of the headmaster. The headmaster himself remains in custody. The policeman who filmed Nusrat’s sexual harassment complaint has been removed from his post and transferred to another department.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina met Nusrat’s family in Dhaka and promised that every person involved in the killing would be bought to justice. “None of the culprits will be spared from legal action,” she said.

Police said Friday that one of the 17 people arrested in connection with her death had accused the school’s principal of ordering the attack.

Iqbal said at least five of those under arrest, including three of Rafi’s classmates, had tied her up with a scarf before setting her on fire. “The plan was to pass the incident off as a suicide. But it fell through after Rafi managed to come downstairs while on fire because the scarf burnt and freed her hands and feet,” he said.

Rafi suffered burns to 80 per cent of her body and died in hospital on April 10.But she recorded a video before her death, repeating her allegations against the principal.

“The teacher touched me, I will fight this crime till my last breath,” she said. She also identified some of her attackers.

Rafi’s brother Mahmudul Hasan Noman said people close to the principal had also put pressure on the family to withdraw the case against him. “They told us that it was a conspiracy against him and that it was fabricated,” he told AFP.

The case has caused outrage in Bangladesh, with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina vowing that “none of the culprits will be spared legal action.”

Rights groups say the number of rape and sexual assault cases has increased in Bangladesh because authorities have failed to prosecute attackers.

“The horrifying murder of a brave woman who sought justice shows how badly the Bangladesh government has failed victims of sexual assault,” Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

 

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