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Tragic death of Bangladeshi student set on fire for reporting abuse provokes anger across the world

Tragic death of Bangladeshi student set on fire for reporting abuse provokes anger across the world
The tragic murder of a school girl, lured onto a roof and set on fire by classmates for reporting sexual abuse by her principal, has provoked outrage across Bangladesh and beyond, with politicians and the UN voicing disgust.

Nusrat Jahan Rafi was pinned to the ground by a group of students and teachers wearing burqas and doused in kerosene before being set alight on the roof of her school in Feni on April 6. The 18-year-old student died from the severe burns, that covered 80 percent of her body, five days later.

As her singed body was rushed to hospital, Rafi knew death coming so the brave girl made a recording on her brother’s phone, “The teacher touched me, I will fight this crime till my last breath.”

Following her death, others are now carrying on the fight on her behalf as the devastating loss of her life has shaken Bangladesh, and the world.

UN coordinator in Bangladesh Mia Seppo slammed the “system’s failure, in terms of a girl who is brave enough to stand up against gender-based violence,”adding, “her brave decision to do so led to more violence leading to her death.”

Calculated Killing

The story of Rafi’s tragic death began on March 27, when the headmaster at the madrassa she attended called her into his office and allegedly touched her inappropriately. She managed to escape before the abuse went further.

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Breaking from societal norms in conservative Bangladesh, Rafi went to report the principal at a police station that day. An officer told her it was “not a big deal,” and filmed her on his mobile phone as she cried and tried to hide her face, likely fearing the harassment and even violent attacks that can face those who speak out about sexual abuse. She told police that the principal had harassed her numerous times. The video was then leaked on social media.

The principal was arrested and students organized a protest against Rafi, while her family received death threats.

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When she returned to school on April 6 to sit an exam, Rafi was lured to the school roof by a female student who pretended her friend was being beaten up. She was surrounded by five people who demanded she drop charges against the principal. When she refused, they tied her hands and set her on fire in what was planned to look like a suicide.

“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.

Thousands of people poured onto the streets for the schoolgirl’s funeral. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina visited the family, telling them: “None of the culprits will be spared from legal action.” Protests have taken place around the country and across social media, as people rail against the fear facing victims of sexual harassment who speak out, and demand government reform.

Student Abdur Rahim allegedly confessed that he and 11 others planned to kill Nusrat and reportedly held a meeting in a school dormitory two days beforehand to decide who would carry out the different roles in the killing, according to reports in Bangladeshi media. He is alleged to have said they were instructed to do so by the principal, Siraj Ud Doula, whom they visited in jail.

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“On the day of the attack, a team of seven people—led by Nur Uddin—guarded the gate from the morning, while Nusrat was set afire inside the madrasa building by another five-member team headed by Shahadat Hossain Shamim,” Rahim reportedly said in his confession, the Dhaka Tribune reports. “After the attack took place, they independently left their positions and fled the area.”

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