A female student at an Islamic school in Feni, Bangladesh has died days after unidentified individuals set her on fire in apparent retaliation for a sexual harassment report she had made against the school principal.
On March 27, Nusrat Jahan Rafi, 18, filed a police report accusing the principal, Maulana Siraj Ud Doula, of sexually harassing her multiple times, with teachers urged her to keep quiet about it.
“I refused. Then he said he liked me. I was surprised to hear that,” said Rafi, who wore a burqa and niqab the first time Ud Doula had summoned her to his office, according to the Dhaka Tribune.
“I told him, ‘What are you saying? You are like my father, you are my teacher. I felt really bad.”
Moazzem Hossain, the attending police officer, filmed Rafi’s statement without her consent and shared it on social media — illegal actions that would later lead to a lawsuit. In the video, he is heard saying that her complaint is “not a big deal,” pushing her to “move your hands from the face and stop crying, [because] nothing happened that you have to cry.”
Ud Doula was arrested following Rafi’s report, but her family started receiving death threats from his supporters. Male students, for one, reportedly organized protests demanding his release.
On April 6, she was lured onto the roof of a building, where at least four people demanded her to withdraw the police report. When she refused, they doused her in kerosene and set her on fire.
“All in burqa, the four attackers had their faces mostly covered. They were wearing spectacles and gloves. So she could not recognise any of them,” Rafi’s older brother told The Daily Star, adding that she suspected them to be all female.
Covered in flames, Rafi descended the building screaming for help. At the hospital, her family learned that her burns had consumed about 80% of her body, effectively putting her in a critical condition.
Rafi succumbed to her injuries and died on April 10. Her story has since sparked outrage in and out of Bangladesh, with thousands of people taking it to the streets and online to demand justice.
Amid calls for justice, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed promised “exemplary punishment” to every individual involved in Rafi’s death.
“I am lost for words to condemn this,” she said, according to bdnews24.com. “I wanted to save her life…but it didn’t happen. She has left us.”
— মেঘ (@Megh_18) April 11, 2019
As of April 15, 14 people have been arrested in connection with Rafi’s murder. Later, a student who confessed involvement claimed that they had acted under Ud Doula’s instructions from prison.
“Some of the culprits have been caught. The others will also be arrested. They won’t be spared. We won’t let them off the hook,” Hasina said. “I think they must face exemplary punishment so that such incidents do not happen again.”