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Muslim Woman Burned to Death in Bangladesh for Reporting Sexual Assault

Nusrat Jahan Rafi, 19, accused headmaster at Islamic school of attacking her
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THOMAS D. WILLIAMS, PH.D.

A 19-year-old Bangladeshi woman was soaked with kerosene and then lit on fire after filing a complaint against the headmaster of her Islamic school for sexual assault.

Nusrat Jahan Rafi reported that on March 27, the headmaster of her madrassa, Siraj-Ud-Daula, called her into his office and touched her several times in a sexual manner, at which point she fled from the office.

Ms. Rafi reported the assault at the local police station she gave a statement. According to a BBC report, the officer in charge recorded a video of her statement on his cell phone and the video was later leaked to local media.

The video shows the teenager trying to hide her face with her hands as she gives her testimony, while the policeman can be heard telling her to take her hands away from her face and insisting the incident was “no big deal.”

After Ms. Rafi had filed her complaint, police arrested the headmaster, but shortly afterward a group of people assembled in the street demanding his release. The demonstration was allegedly instigated by two male students, but local politicians were reportedly present as well.

On April 6, Ms. Rafi returned to her school to take her final exams. According to her own testimony given before she died, she was taken to the roof of the school by another female student, who told her that one of her friends was being beaten up.

When she reached the rooftop, four or five people wearing burqas surrounded her and tried to persuade her to retract her complaint against the headmaster, she said, and when she refused, they doused her in kerosene and set her on fire.

Chief Banaj Kumar Majumder of the Police Bureau of Investigation said the killers sought “to make it look like a suicide,” but the young woman lived long enough to be rescued. As she was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance, Ms. Rafi recorded a statement on her brother’s cell phone in case she did not live long enough to give an official statement.

When she arrived at the local hospital, doctors found burns covering 80 percent of her body and since they did not have the facilities to treat the severe burns, they sent her to Dhaka Medical College Hospital.

Ms. Rafi died on April 10, and thousands of people attended her funeral.

Local police have since arrested a total of 18 people, eight of them allegedly involved in the murder. Among those arrested are the two male students who organized the street protest in support of the headmaster as well as the headmaster himself.

Two of those arrested have reportedly testified that the murder was carried out at the direction of the headmaster.

Ms. Rafi’s death has become something of a cause célèbre in Bangladesh, sparking public protests as well as a wave of complaints on social media concerning the treatment of sexual assault victims in Bangladesh.

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