A 19-year-old girl, Nusrat Rafi, was doused with kerosene and burnt at her school in Bangladesh, for filing a sexual harassment complaint against her headmaster.
Nusrat, who was studying at an Islamic school, said her headmaster called her into his office on March 27 and repeatedly touched her in an inappropriate manner, but she ran out before things could go further.
Many girls and young women who are sexually harassed in Bangladesh choose to keep their experiences secret for fear of being shamed by society or their families.
Nusrat however did not just speak out, but she 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, but she was rather 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.
In a statement given by Nusrat, a female colleague took her to the roof of the school that a friend was being beaten, on getting there, she met four or five people wearing Burgas and pressurized her to withdraw the case, when she refused, and she was set ablaze.
Police Bureau of Investigation chief Banaj 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.
Majumder said “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,”
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, saying “The teacher touched me, I will fight this crime till my last breath,” you can hear her say.
News of Nusrat’s health dominated Bangladeshi media. On 10 April, she died. Thousands of people turned out for her funeral in Feni.
Police have since arrested 15 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, while 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 brought to justice. “None of the culprits will be spared from legal action,” she said.
Nusrat’s death has sparked protests and thousands have used social media to express their anger about both her case and the treatment of sexual assault victims in Bangladesh.