Finally, there is justice for the girl set on fire

Autumn Page, Marketing Director

A 19-year-old girl was set on fire after she refused to withdraw a sexual harassment complaint she filed against the principal at the school she attended. 

On Oct. 24, a Bangladeshi court sentenced 16 people, which included the principal accused and other classmates, to death in connection with the case.

Nusrat Jahan Rafi was lured to her school’s rooftop on April 6, 2019, which was only 11 days after she reported the headmaster to police for repeatedly touching her inappropriately. She was then surrounded by people wearing burqas, pressuring her to withdraw her complaint. When she refused, they drenched her in kerosene, bound her hands and feet with a scarf and set her on fire. She managed to escape and get help, but knowing she was badly hurt, she gave a statement, which her brother filmed on his phone.

“The teacher touched me, I will fight this crime ’till my last breath,” she said, then proceeded to name some of her attackers.

She was brought to the hospital, and suffered burns on 80% of her body. Four days later, she died on April 10, according to an article from the NY Daily News. 

The fact that this story isn’t being talked about more all over the world is alarming, and this is how these people decided to stop a situation. Setting someone on fire is what, a justifiable and logical way to solve an issue?

A BBC article said three teachers, including the headmaster, Siraj Ud Doula, were arrested. Police say Doula ordered the killing from prison after he was arrested under suspicion of harassment. 

Prosecutors said Doula denied involvement, and 12 of the people involved confessed. They all were found guilty by the court. Another two of the defendants convicted, Ruhul Amin and Maksud Alam, are local leaders of the ruling Awami League party, one of the two political parties in Bangladesh. The party has the ideology of nationalism, democracy, socialism and secularism.

A number of local police were found to have collaborated with those who spread the false information that Rafi had committed suicide and ultimately failed — though the officers were not among those tried for Nusrat’s murder.

The idea that police help spread false information about someone’s death is so disheartening. I can’t speak to how trusted the police are in Bangladesh, but this situation almost sounds familiar to us in the United States.

The issue became public as protesters demanded justice for Rafi and raised concerns over how sexual harassment and violence often go unreported in the country, according to an article published by Aljazeera. Victims are often intimidated and avoid reporting to police — who are often unwilling to investigate cases or are influenced by local politics or bribes, human rights groups say.

Rafi’s family, who supported her when she went to the police about the sexual harassment situation, have since been given police protection. Her brother, Mahmudul Hasan Noman, said they were still fearing for their lives in the BBC article.

“You already know they threatened me in public inside the courtroom,” he told reporters. “I am very afraid. I am urging the prime minister to ensure our security. And the police super should also keep a track on our well-being.”

The family approved the court’s verdict, asking for the sentence to be carried out quickly. In Bangladesh, the death penalty is carried out by hanging. 

This situation is so strangely messed up. It’s difficult to fathom what Rafi had to go through. All she did was speak out against someone for sexually harassing her, and this is what happened. Meanwhile, the United States has varying issues with speaking out against sexual harassment, but things even remotely close to this seldom happen.