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Bangladeshi student burned to death by fellow students for reporting sexual harassment by head teacher

A Bangladeshi teenager who braved the shame and taboo of being sexually harassed by reporting her ordeal to officials, has been doused with kerosene at school and burned to death.

Nusrat Jahan Rafi, 19, filed a complaint with local police in late March after allegedly being touched inappropriately by the head teacher at her Islamic school, also known as a madrasa, according to the BBC. A police officer filmed her distraught testimony on his mobile phone and it was leaked after the teacher was arrested.

Despite the increasing threats of violence against her, Rafi continued going to class and on April 6, reportedly was lured to a building rooftop at her school. She was then surrounded by several burqa-clad individuals who demanded that she retract her police report.

After refusing, the Police Bureau of Investigation Chief told the BBC, the student was doused in kerosene and set alight –but their plan to “make it look like a suicide” failed after the severely injured Rafi was rescued.

She suffered burns to more than 80 percent of her body, and died ten days later. But while being rushed to hospital via ambulance and in one final act of courage, Rafi recorded a statement on her brother’s phone exposing some of her attackers as fellow students.

“The teacher touched me,” she reportedly said. “I will fight this crime till my last breath.”

“When a woman tries to get justice for sexual harassment, she has to face a lot of harassment again,” Salma Ali, a human rights lawyer and former director of the Women Lawyers’ Association, told the BBC. “The case lingers for years, there is shaming in society, a lack of willingness from the police to properly investigate the allegations. It leads the victim to give up on seeking justice.”

But given the wave of media attention and the outpouring of anger that has arisen in the wake of Rafi’s murder, some remain hopeful that at least some justice might be served. The case is under investigation and authorities have already determined law enforcement negligence in the initial response to her complaints.

More than a dozen arrests reportedly have been made related to her murder.

At a news conference this week, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) also took aim at the Islamic school for a long track record of ignoring previous grievances against the headmaster’s behavior toward female students.

“If the administration from the district level to madrasa acted responsibly, then the incident would never have taken place,” noted Kazi Reazul Haque, the NHRC chairman. “We questioned how (the head teacher) was appointed as the principal despite having this kind of past.”

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