***WARNING: This story contains intense descriptions of injuries and horrific acts. Be advised.
Nusrat Jahan Rafi was a 19-year-old student in Bangladesh. She was doused in kerosene and set on fire as retaliation for filing sexual assault charges against her school’s headmaster.
Nursat studied at a madrasa, or Islamic college, in Feni. On March 27th, she said her principal had called her into his office and touched her inappropriately.
When she tried to bring it up the sexual harassment with other teachers, she was told to keep quiet. She instead tried to take the issue to the police.
An officer recorded her description of events, though his comments brushed off her worry. He later illegally posted the video the social media. In the video, you can see Nursat crying, her face in her hands as she tries to tell her story.
The officer says at one point,
“It’s not a big deal.”
Incredibly sad and difficult to share. In my experience, most people don’t want this knowledge, but not talking about these crimes only helps perpetrators. 19-year old Nusrat Jahan Rafi was burned to death for reporting sexual harassment, at her school https://t.co/ASzsKLsg7u— Soraya Chemaly (@schemaly) April 18, 2019
This is horrific. Nusrat was 19 with her whole life ahead of her. If anyone doubts that women's rights still need to be fought for, read this. Just tragic.— Reeta Chakrabarti (@reetacbbc) April 18, 2019
BBC News - Nusrat Jahan Rafi: Burned to death for reporting sexual harassment https://t.co/FlMA47UpKc
Women are murdered everywhere every day for surviving and reporting assault. I feel like I can't deal with it anymore, but I also know I can't ignore it.— Jazz 🍀 (@inbaddreams) April 18, 2019
Nusrat Jahan Rafi: Burned to death for reporting sexual harassment https://t.co/zTcKzjN6id
Sexual abuse is often hidden & victims neglected— Hasib N (@hasibmn) April 18, 2019
We must provide safe spaces for anyone abused to come forward & hold abusers responsibile to the full extent of the law
This is beartbreaking
God have mercy on her & bring her abuser & killers to justicehttps://t.co/kVhAKEZTDF
For many women in Bangladesh, keeping their assaults secret is the only way to live. Speaking out can mean abuse, ostracization or even death. Nursat was victim to all three.
After her report, the headmaster, Maulana Siraj Ud Doula, was arrested on sexual assault charges. However, things got worse for Nursat. She was blamed for the incident.
She and her family began receiving death threats. There was an organized protest, demanding the principal’s release. Mostly the male students attended, though local politicians also showed support for the accused sexual harasser.
On April 6th, Nursat was told by a female student that one of her friends was being attacked on the roof of a school building. When she got there, several people surrounded her. They tried to threaten her to withdraw her accusation against the headmaster.
The group jumped her and held her down. They poured kerosene over her body and then lit her on fire. Then they ran away.
It’s believed they tried to burn her to death in some kind of attempt to make it look like a suicide. However, they failed. Nursat screamed for help as her entire body was engulfed in flames.
She was found and taken to a local hospital where she was able to give her statement of events, and even identify some of her attackers. One of the killers had held her head down with his hands, meaning the kerosene couldn’t reach her head and face.
However, burns covered over 80% of her body. The small hospital didn’t have the ability to adequately help her, so they sent her to Dhaka Medical College Hospital.
Being transferred again, and suffering terrible injuries, Nursat worried she wouldn’t survive.
She recorded a statement on her brother’s phone,
“The teacher touched me. I will fight this crime till my last breath.”
On April 10th, she succumbed to her injuries and passed away.
This breaks my heart and enrages me. Everyone should be mad. I’m so sorry Nusrat Jahan Rafi. We must keep fighting... for heroes like you. ❤️ https://t.co/2Vlus4ot6t— Lilly Singh (@IISuperwomanII) April 19, 2019
Um excuse me? Why is nobody talking about the girl in Bangladesh that was set ON FIRE as she was about to sit her exam because she refused to withdraw sexual assault allegations against her school principal??? Her name is Nusrat Jahan Rafi— The princess of (insert place)🌱 (@_Milaaan) April 12, 2019
"The teacher touched me, I will fight this crime till my last breath," she said in the ambulance.— Ellie Johnson (@efitzj) April 18, 2019
Nusrat Jahan Rafi was burned to death after reporting sexual harassment at her school in Bangladesh. We must never forget her courage. Say her name. #Nusrathttps://t.co/QBHDj1KVzE
19 year old Nusrat Jahan Rafi was burned alive for reporting sexual harassment in Bangladesh.— Cameron Archibald (@MammothWhale) April 19, 2019
29 year old Lyra McKee was shot dead whilst reporting violence in Northern Ireland.
This is beyond heartbreaking. Remember these courageous young women and be the change they saw. pic.twitter.com/1aRwueKk07
Since her death, police have arrested 15 people involved with Nursat’s harassment and death. Seven people were arrested in connection with the fire, and two were in connection with the organized protest. The principal remains in custody.
The police officer who recorded and leaked Nursat’s accusation has been transferred to another department.
As her story spread, the country became outraged at her treatment. Thousands of people turned up for her funeral. Protests sparked across the country demanding justice for the murdered woman.
The Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina Wazed, has promised precisely that:
“None of the culprits will be spared from legal action,”
The police have also started an internal investigation into their own handling of Nursat’s claim.