For the crime of not being ashamed of being harassed and having the courage to openly file a complaint against her harasser in just another conservative small town in Bangladesh, Nusrat Jahan Rafi was mercilessly burned to death in a heinous attempt to silence her.
Rafi, 19, after being inappropriately touched by her school principal repeatedly, managed to escape and garner support from her family members to report sexual harassment against him. The local police, however, was submissive of her and dismissed her testimony as “no big deal”. They even tried to record her video without her consent while she was profusely crying describing the incident to them. She avoided going to school for 11 days due to the trauma of harassment and the negligence of the police. However, when she went to school the next day, she was lured to go to the rooftop by one of her female friends, where she was surrounded and cornered by a group of men. The men demanded her to withdraw the harassment complaint that she had filed.
However, being an outspoken and determined girl, she was fixated on getting justice and refused to remain silent on the matter. Her refusal to comply resulted in her being doused with kerosene and ruthlessly lit on fire. The brave girl, however, recorded her final statement as “The teacher touched me, I will fight this crime till my last breath” while fighting against death for the last few minutes of her life. Some of the people involved in her murder also had grudges against her for refusing their advances. Rafi’s death has shaken Bangladesh and sparked outrage all over the country. People are protesting and mourning the death of this young, brave girl.
This isn’t the first time a girl like Rafi is silenced. Such girls are silenced every day – by those eve-teasers on streets, those uncles in family parties and those bosses in offices. However, such girls are well aware of the consequences of them speaking up and hence, never come out – because it’s shameful for a girl to be harassed. Maybe because she becomes a damaged good with a blot on her character after being harassed or maybe because she asked for it, thanks to us. And when there are some girls like Rafi, who try to fight these odds of victim shaming by actually speaking up against their harasser, they are assaulted, raped or murdered.
People need to realize that, sexual harassment is not a shame for the girl but it is a shame on us. We ask the girls, “Why did you go out alone, wearing such clothes, at this time?” but we never ask the boys, “Why are you looking at her like that?” or “Why are you talking about her with so much vulgarity?” Sadly enough, the headlines are “Rafi got harassed” instead of “School principle harasses student”. Such small things have such a great impact on the conscious of the people. The former headline puts the blame on Rafi and that’s what we have always been doing – blaming the girls instead of taking responsibility for the heinous acts of boys.
Victims of sexual harassment are often reluctant or too frightened to go to the police for help because they usually end up getting shamed or humiliated by officials, similar to what Rafi had experienced in the video of her report.
Even when victims are brave enough to speak up, less than 1 percent of reported rapes result in convictions. When a woman tries to get justice for sexual harassment, she has to face a lot of harassment again – The lingering cases, shaming by the society and a lack of willingness from the police to properly investigate the allegations.
– Arushi Jain