“The teacher touched me, I will fight this crime till my last breath.”
A schoolgirl was ordered burned to death in Bangladesh after the head teacher she accused of sexually harassing her failed to convince her to drop the case, the BBC reported Thursday.
Nusrat Jahan Rafi, 19, was lured to the rooftop of the Islamic seminary school she attended. Once there, a group of suspected assailants asked her to withdraw the sexual harassment accusations she’d made in March. When she refused, Rafi was doused with fuel and set on fire.
Police have arrested 15 people in connection to the murder, including the head teacher who is accused of ordering the attack.
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According to police, the teacher directed the group to apply pressure on Rafi to withdraw the case or kill her if she refused.
The group, which included classmates of Rafi’s, tied her up with scarfs before setting her on fire. The plan was to pass her death off as a suicide, but it fell through after Rafi was able to flee the roof and seek help.
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“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,” Police Bureau of Investigation chief Banaj Kumar Majumder said.
A defiant Rafi then recorded a video in the ambulance with the help of her brother, saying “the teacher touched me, I will fight this crime until my last breath.” She also named some of her attackers in the recording.
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When Rafi reached the hospital, 80% of her body was covered in burns. She was treated at Dhaka Medical College Hospital but died of her injuries on April 10.
Her death sparked protests across the country, with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina vowing to prosecute all of those involved in the crime.
“None of the culprits will be spared from legal action,” Sheikh said.
Rafi had gone to police in late March to report the sexual harassment. A leaked video, taken by an investigating officer with a cell phone camera, shows police being dismissive of Rafi’s case.
“It’s no big deal,” a local police station chief can be heard saying in the video.
Shortly after Rafi reported the harassment, people close to the teacher began applying pressure to the family to drop the case. Two male students organized a street protest and demanded the teacher’s release.
Human rights groups say cases of sexual assault in Bangladesh are on the rise, but the true number of cases is hard to know. Oftentimes, victims are pressured to drop cases or allegations against men are not taken seriously. Fear of retribution causes many victims not to seek help.
“When a woman tries to get justice for sexual harassment, she has to face a lot of harassment again. The case lingers for years, there is shaming in society, a lack of willingness from police to properly investigate the allegations,” said Salma Ali, a human rights lawyer.
“It leads the victim to give up on seeking justice. Ultimately the criminals don’t get punished and they do the same crime again. Others don’t fear to do the same because of such examples,” Ali continued.
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