Nusrat Jahan Rafi, a 19-year-old girl who reported her headmaster for sexual harassment, died on April 10 after being set on fire at school. Nusrat’s death has resulted in protests and outrage on social media. Since her death, police have arrested 15 people, including seven individuals who were allegedly involved in the murder.
“None of the culprits will be spared from legal action,” said Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who met with Nusrat’s family in Dhaka.
Nusrat was studying at a madrassa, or Islamic school when her headmaster called her to his office and began to inappropriately touch her repeatedly. Nusrat ran out of his office and immediately reported the incident to the police with the help of her family. While she was giving a statement to the police, an officer in charge began filming her statement on his phone. The police disregarded her report as “no big deal” and leaked the video of her report to local media.
Police arrested the headmaster and a group of people began protesting in the streets to demand his release. Two male students arranged the protest where local politicians were allegedly in attendance. Nusrat continued to face abuse and threats from the local community while she continued to attend school. On April 6, Nusrat went to school for her final exams when another female student took her to the roof of the school. On the rooftop, Nusrat was surrounded by four to five people, wearing burqas and pressured her to withdraw her report. When she refused to withdraw her case, the assailants continued to douse her with kerosene and set her on fire, attempting to make the incident look like a suicide. Doctors were unable to treat her burns that covered 80 percent of her body.
However, before her death, Nusrat recorded a statement on her brother’s phone, identifying some of the attackers and stating, “The teacher touched me, I will fight this crime till my last breath.”
In 2009, the Bangladesh Supreme Court ordered all educational institutions to establish sexual harassment cells where students would be able to report incidences. Few schools have implemented the order and activists are now calling for the order to be executed and enshrined in law to protect students.
Nusrat’s case is only one of a widespread issue in Bangladesh. Victims of sexual harassment usually face judgement, harassment, and violent attacks for coming forward and reporting an incident. Two out of every three women in Bangladesh experience gender-based violence. In a study conducted by the World Health Organization, about 31 percent of women in Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh, and about 43 percent of women in Matlab, a rural area, said they did not report physical violence because they felt ashamed or feared they would not be believed.
“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,” said Mia Seppo, the UN resident coordinator in Bangladesh. “And what happened is that her brave decision to do so led to more violence, leading to her death.”
Media Resources: The Guardian 4/18/19; BBC News 4/18/19; Vice News 4/21/15