Despite some serious allegations against him in the past, the now arrested Feni madrasa Principal Siraj Uddoula managed to hold his post with protection from about a dozen influential locals, including some Awami League leaders.
Before he was sued by Nusrat Jahan Rafi over sexual assault last month, Siraj sexually harassed several other students in his office room, according to a victim and a staffer.
Aware of his intent, female students stopped going to his office alone. Instead, they used to go in groups to protect themselves, they said.
But afraid of his political and financial clout, no teachers of the Sonagazi Islamia Madrasa dared to raise their voice against him, locals and teachers have told The Daily Star.
Once a Jamaat member, Siraj used to maintain close links with some powerful people, who in return got a share of the rent from 15 shops and two private banks housed in one of the madrasa buildings. The monthly rent from these shops and banks are about Tk 1.5 lakh, they added.
Five of these people are accused in the case filed by Nusrat's brother after she was set afire on April 6, allegedly by four burka-clad people. The case was later turned into a murder case after Nusrat died on Wednesday night.
They are Maksud Alam, Afsar Uddin, Abdul Kader, Nuruddin and Shahadat Hossain Shamim. Maksud and Afsar have been arrested, while the rest are on the run.
Maksud is the councillor of Ward-4 of Sonagazi municipality and acting general secretary of the municipal AL. He is also a member of the madrasa managing committee and is known to be a staunch backer of Siraj.
Nuruddin and Shahadat are Fazil students at the same madrasa and sidekicks of the principal who “used them” in all his illegal activities, said locals, including a number of AL leaders.
Though there is no Chhatra League committee in the madrasa, these two used to identify themselves as BCL leaders, said madrasa teachers and staffers.
Afsar is a teacher of the madrasa.
The Daily Star could not contact them for comments as they are either arrested or on the run.
Md Mostafa has served Siraj as his peon for several years before he was made a guard at the madrasa about two years ago.
He said he saw the principal harass at least three female students.
“As the principal used to sexually harass female students in his office room, we used to go in groups -- three or four girls at a time,” said a student who claimed to be a victim herself.
“So when one of us goes inside, the others wait outside,” she said, adding that they started this practice after hearing the experiences of other girls.
Her father, himself principal of another madrasa in Sonagazi, said his daughter was harassed by Siraj about five months ago.
A teacher then lodged a complaint against Siraj with the school managing committee and three teachers protested the incident and demanded justice.
However, the complaint was unsigned and the committee could not act on it, said PKM Enamul Karim, president of the current madrasa managing committee.
After the incident, the principal issued show cause notice against the teachers for raising the issue and threatened them with suspension, two of the three teachers -- Abul Kashem and Belayet Hossain -- told The Daily Star yesterday.
That girl's father said one committee member, who is a local AL leader, then asked him not to file any complaint with the managing committee, assuring him that they would take action.
“But they did not take any action. Had the committee taken action, Nusrat would not have to die,” he added.
Siraj allegedly sexually assaulted Nusrat in his room on March 27.
On the same day, her mother filed a case with Sonagazi police and Siraj was arrested later that day.
However, before recording the case, OC Moazzem Hossain filmed Nusrat at the police station while she gave her statement, said a local AL leader who was present there at the time.
Making such videos is illegal.
In the video posted online, the girl is seen crying hard covering her face with her hands as the OC was asking her to narrate every detail of her experience.
Following the principal's arrest, a group of people led by AL leader Maksud, Nuruddin and Shahadat staged two demonstrations demanding his release. They also allegedly asked Nusrat's family to withdraw the case or face consequences.
According to Nusrat's statement to doctors at Dhaka Medical College Hospital, four people wearing burkas and hand gloves poured kerosene on her and set her on fire on the roof of the madrasa, just minutes before she was to take an exam there.
Abul Kashem, a teacher who is also on the madrasa managing committee, said Siraj used to run the madrasa maintaining close links with some influential people and political leaders.
“So on one ever thought of raising their voice against him. This is why, the sexual harassment of a student by him in October last year did not come to light,” he said.
Rafiqul Islam Khokon, Sonagazi upazila AL general secretary and also the municipal mayor, said the principal sought protection to whoever he deemed useful.
“The Awami League is a big political party. You should not blame the party for some individuals,” he said.
In the past, Siraj was arrested twice, but secured bail each time and continued to hold the position, teachers and locals said.
He was first sent to jail in 2017 in two cases filed for “sabotage and assaulting police” in 2014.
Then in July last year, he was sent to jail again in a case over misappropriation of Tk 1.39 crore of a Feni-based cooperative society, Unmul Qura Developers. He is the chairman of the cooperative.
Earlier in 2017, there was an audit objection raised against him over spending Tk 43 lakh from the school fund.
A subsequent investigation found various irregularities such as using plain papers to submit the bill instead of proper vouchers or money receipts, said Enamul Karim, president of the current madrasa managing committee and also the additional deputy commissioner of Feni.
However, Siraj faced no action at the time.