DHAKA: The murder of 19-year-old Nusrat Jahan Rafi, who was doused with kerosene and set on fire at her school in Feni on 6 April, followed her allegations of sexual harassment against her headteacher two weeks before has sparked widespread protests in Bangladesh to demand more justice for women.
Nusrat suffered 80% burns to her body and died 10 days later from her injuries. The case, which has received widespread attention in Bangladesh, has been investigated by a two-person commission led by a local judge that has identified negligence in the handling of her initial complaints.
According to investigators, Nusrat, who lived in the small town about 100 miles south-east of the capital, Dhaka, had complained to her family of being touched inappropriately by the headteacher of her Islamic school in late March.
Unlike the many girls who decline to complain, Nusrat decided to raise the issue with police on the same day. A police officer filmed her evidence on his smartphone.
When her distressed testimony was leaked to local media by police after the arrest of the headteacher, Nusrat faced abuse and threats of violence from the local community as she tried to continue attending school.
The fatal attack occurred on 6 April, when she had gone to school for her final exams.
According to a statement given by Nusrat before she died, a fellow female student asked her to accompany her to the school’s rooftop on a pretext. When there, four or five people, wearing burqas, surrounded her and allegedly pressured her to withdraw the case against the headteacher.
When she refused, they set her on fire. The Police Bureau of Investigation chief, Banaj Kumar Majumder, told BBC Bengali that the killers wanted “to make it look like a suicide”. Their plan failed when Nusrat was rescued after they fled the scene and was able to give a statement.
“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,” he added.
In the ambulance, fearing she might not survive, she recorded a statement on her brother’s mobile phone.
“The teacher touched me. I will fight this crime till my last breath,” you can hear her say.
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.
The results of an inquiry by the National Human Rights Commission, published on Tuesday, disclosed that the headteacher involved had been accused of sexual harassment before, and blamed police for their handling of her complaint.
At a press conference, NHRC chairman Kazi Reazul Haque said: “If the administration from the district level to madrasa acted responsibly, then the incident would never have taken place.”
He said the madrasa management committee should have known that there were previous complaints of sexual assault against the headteacher, who is now suspended.
“We questioned [the madrasa committee] how [the headteacher] was appointed as the principal despite having this kind of past. [The committee] could not give us an answer,” Reazul Haque added.
Nusrat’s killing has been held up by observers as evidence of the widespread social issues facing women who complain of sexual assault in the country.
Mia Seppo, UN resident coordinator in Bangladesh, told local reporters: “Here, we have a case that is tragic on so many different levels, in terms of the system’s failure, in terms of a girl who is brave enough to stand up against gender-based violence.
“And what happened is that her brave decision to do so led to more violence, leading to her death.” – With inputs from agencies