Angry protests erupted in Bangladesh last week after a teen girl was burned alive at her school for filing a sexual harassment complaint against her headmaster. The incident, which occurred on April 6, has gripped Bangladesh, with as many as 18 persons arrested in the case.
The victim, a resident of Feni, and her family filed a police complaint against the headmaster Siraj-Ud-Daula on March 27, charging him of an attempt to rape. In her testimony to this police, the victim said the teacher called her into his office on March 27 and touched her in an inappropriate manner.
On April 6, she was attacked on the rooftop of a madrassa by four burqa-clad assailants who doused her in kerosene and burned her alive. She received 80 per cent injuries but still preferred to record her statement while being taken to the hospital. Her statement and a letter recovered by the police are the key pieces of evidence in the case. She died five days after being set afire.
Instead of keeping the testimony private, police officials filmed the video and allegedly leaked it to the local media. The video soon went viral on social media and the girl became a target of the radical elements.
Officer-in-charge (OC) Moazzem Hossain, who recorded the video, is heard saying in the video that the incident was “nothing major”. He assured her of taking action against the headmaster and sent her home. The OC has now been removed from his post and transferred to another department.
According to the Dhaka Tribune, police arrested the headmaster but he continued to instigate his followers from the jail. The victim was repeatedly pressurised by her colleagues and others to drop the charges against the teacher, which she defiantly disagreed to do.
Arrests in the case
There have been 17 people arrested in the case so far. Police said the murder was a pre-planned conspiracy hatched by the madrassa headmaster, students and school staff. According to The Dhaka Tribune, three accused, namely Shahadat Hossain Shamim, Nuruddin and Hafez Abdul Kader, met headmaster Siraj-ud-Daula in jail on April 5 and hatched the plan to murder her when she would come to give her Alim exam the next day.
Two girls were also involved directly in the case and one of them has been taken under custody. One girl led the victim to the roof and the other supplied kerosene and burqas to Shamim, The Dhaka Tribune reported.
During a court trial, another arrested student Abdur Rahim Prakash Sharif said, “The whole thing was planned at a meeting held on the night prior to the attack, in the western dormitory next to the madrasa building. Shahadat Hossain Shamim directed us in our duties.”
“On the day of the attack, a team of seven people — led by Nuruddin — guarded the gate from the morning, while the victim was set afire inside the madrassa building by another five-member team headed by Shahadat Hossain Shamim. After the attack took place, they independently left their positions and fled the area,” The Dhaka Tribune quoted his court admission.
The police also arrested one Maksud Alam, who is the Sonagazi Municipality Councillor associated with the ruling Awami League. He is accused of funding the murder conspiracy by providing over Tk 10,000. Alam has been suspended by the party now.
The police have also recovered a letter the victim wrote on her class notebook before she was attacked. In the letter, addressed to two of her friends, she describes how the principal sexually assaulted her and how her classmates’ attendance in a program demanding Sirajuddaula’s release from jail had hurt her.
She had also described that the headmaster wanted to sleep with her in exchange for the question paper of the final exam. “He told me that- ‘Don’t do drama, you have an affair; enjoy having affair with boys; but what they can give you? I will give you the questions before the exams.’ In return, I should give him my body. I would rather fight until my last breath,” she said.
She ended her letter saying that she was mistaken when she thought about giving up her life, adding that she would stay alive and punish the one who made her suffer.
Bangladesh has seen continued protests from April 11 with many student affiliates of political parties, NGOs and human rights organisations holding demonstrations and sit-ins across the country. On Thursday, members of the Bangladesh General Students’ Rights Council formed a human chain in Khulna to protest against the crime.
The district National Children’s Task Force unit in Madaripur too formed a human chain. They also sent a letter to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s Office.
At a protest on April 13, Communist Party of Bangladesh President Mujahidul Islam Selim said the incident was a result of justice not being served. “The culprits knew, as long they were a part of the ruling party, there would be no justice for the crimes they committed,” The Dhaka Tribune quoted him as saying.
He also laid the blame of the incident over the ruling Awami League, saying that the party allowed its student affiliates to carry out their criminal activities.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina met the victim’s family and assured that none of the culprits would be spared from legal action. An organisation called Bangladesh Mahila Parishad had reported at least 592 cases of rape in the first six months of 2018.