A historic verdict was delivered to the criminals of 19-year old madrasa student Nusrat Jahan Rafi, hailing from Sonagazi of Feni destrict. She was brutally set ablaze leading to her murder after five days fight to survive after filing a complaint against her madrasa principal for sexual molestation by the followers of the accused. The incident took place April 6 this year after 10 days of the molestation and Nusrat died on April 10. The whole country was shocked at the sheer brutality and joined the protest.
All united in a demand for justice, change and to resist sexual violence in the country. People marched in lines, holding banners reading ‘Justice for Nusrat; Justice for Bangladesh’ for several days. The government and the law enforcing agencies acted prompt and only within six months, justice was served as 16 men including the madrasa principal were sentenced to death. Everyone took credit for the quick trial which is highly rare in the context of Bangladesh. All expressed satisfaction. But in reality there is no way anyone should be satisfied with this incident of justice served.
Nusrat was sexually beleaguered at the office of her principal Siraj Ud Doula. Within a few minutes of entering his office, Nusrat claimed that he touched her inappropriately and repeatedly. Before it could go any further, she fled the room. Sexual harassment in this country of 168 million people is widespread. Women’s groups report that there were 940 rapes in 2018, from which more than 60 victims died. But with a culture that deters women and girls from reporting and can see them cast out of society for speaking up, the real number is likely to be significantly higher.
Most girls her age would have gone home and kept the occurrence a secret for fear of being disgraced, degrading the name of her family and placing their security at risk. But Nusrat was special. Despite coming from a conventional family and attending a religious school, not only did she share her story with her relatives, she reported it to the authorities right away. She was a brave soul indeed which we could not protect. At a local police station, she gave a statement as she was filmed on a phone by the officer in charge.
In the video – which was leaked to local media and a great offence itself – Nusrat is evidently distraught and tries to cover her face with her hands. The policeman is heard calling the complaint “no big deal”.
But she refused to back down and, on March 27, Siraj Ud Doula was arrested. Many local people objected. Male students and politicians gathered on the streets to demand his release. Nusrat’s family reportedly began to worry for her wellbeing.Eleven days later, she returned to school to complete her final exams.
According to a statement given by Nusrat on her death bed, once inside the school a fellow female student guided her to the roof, telling her to hurry because one of her friends was being beaten up.
But when Nusrat reached the rooftop four or five people, wearing burqas, surrounded her and allegedly pressured her to withdraw the case against the headmaster. When she refused, they tied her hands and feet with a scarf, poured kerosene over her body and set her on fire.
The killers had seemingly planned to make the murder look like a suicide, but Nusrat bravely managed to run downstairs for help after the flames burned through the scarves binding her limbs.
In the ambulance, fearing she might not survive, she recorded a statement. She also identified some of her attackers as students at her school. Her body was covered in 80 per cent burns. On April 10, five days after the attack, Nusrat died of her injuries. Thousands of people attended her funeral in Feni, and her story dominated the media. Her death sparked outrage across the country and instigated protests in towns and cities, even prompting Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to promise speedy action in the murder case.
An investigation soon uncovered the conspiracy to silence Nusrat, which involved 16 men, including her own classmates, a number of powerful figures from within her community, and three teachers – including the principal, Siraj Ud Doula, who ordered the killing from prison. The fast-tracked trial took a record 62 days to complete. It’s been one of the quickest on record in a country where such cases usually take years. The ruling by a special women and children’s tribunal sentenced all 16 men to death.
Sexual harassment in Bangladesh is commonplace. A report by charity Action Aid this year found 80 per cent of women working in factories have either seen or experienced sexual violence in work. In the first six months of 2019, a total of 26 women were killed after being sexually assaulted, 592 were allegedly raped and 113 women said they were gang raped.
Now we are happy that Nusrat was served justice but none should be very happy about that. Before her death, Nusrat by herself identified the criminals and she gave statements multiple times and there is no credit for the law enforcement agencies in tracing out the criminals. It is rather unfortunate that after Nusrat first lodged the complaint against her principal, the police tried to cover up the accusation and was relentless to take any action. Though the continuous brave pursuing of Nusrat at a point led to the arrest of the accused, it was unforgivable that Siraj Ud Doula was able to order the killing of Nusrat while he was in custody. Without the help of the authority, he could not have given such orders.
The police almost had to do nothing in this case. There was minimal effort required to capture the identified criminals of this barbaric crimes while the main criminal and planner was under custody. The court had the clear statements of the victim and did not require much dependency on the investigations.
For a quick justice served, the authority cannot take the credit as it was actually for the pressure from the people. If anyone has to be credited, it must be the victim itself, Nusrat as along with being the victim, she played the role of investigation officer and the lawyer by herself before and even after her death.
It is the lameness of our authority that Nusrat was killed. Only if the authority especially the police would perform their duty with honesty, Nusrat could have been with us today. There is no way we can be breathing easily after this justice was served. Our whole system’s failure cannot be covered with Nusrat’s victory. Slight credit can go to the people, who created the pressure on the authority.
Many cases of rape and consequent murders are reported almost every week where the victims do not get the leverage to identify the criminals before their deaths. We can mention some such famous cases like Tonu murder, Mitu murder, Saima murder etc.
and murder cases like; Sagar-Runi murder, Taqi murder etc. Years have passed in almost all the cases but the police investigation or trial is yet to be completed. Most of the investigations are botched up. The law enforcing agencies are suspected and found to divert the investigations often. Moreover, they are not at all sincere to identify the real criminals.
Recently a double murder was committed at Dhanmondi where an elderly woman was brutally killed along with her maid. The police are suspecting another maid who joined very recently. But their investigation is not considering few critical facts like the rape of that young maid as it was nowhere mentioned if the police are considering that possibility. We cannot trust the forensic investigation of our country also as till now as it is visible to the mass, the forensic team of Bangladesh cannot give much to an investigation. Due to rigged investigations and huge money exchange the criminals are getting away and the victims are getting more victimized in Bangladesh.
It is very painful as citizens to realize that we will not receive any justice if we fall victim to heinous crimes. The law enforcers should be our greatest friend and the court should be our last resort. But no citizen of this country wants to take help of the police or the court as there is no trust bestowed upon. Even in a clear case of sexual molestation in Nusrat’s initial complaint, the police tried to cover it up under the influence of power and money.
This trend of lack of justice is becoming a great worry in our lives today in Bangladesh. But the police who cannot submit charge sheet of an offence for years and the court which cannot serve justice to a crime for eternity due to huge number of pending cases did not fail to take credit of their actions in a case resolved where the victim herself did everything and yet lost her life.
We just want the government and authority to feel sympathized to the people of the country. After every sensational murder, the relatives of the victims meet the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to get assured of the justice. It cannot be a practice.
If it is, then the responsibility of the law enforcement agencies and the justice system will always remain under question. To take Bangladesh forward, improvement in human indices is highly required and that calls for ensuring safety, security and justice for the citizens. We hope, we will all perform our roles in time to not only fight crimes but also to take Bangladesh forward.
The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA), Editor at Kishore Bangla and Vice-Chairman, Democracy Research Center (DRC)