If I reject your proposal, will you let me live?
Her death has sent out a clarion call. But we don't know how long it'll take for the call to make a veritable change. How long the call will keep blaring in the air. Our hearts remain suffused with questions.
Nusrat Jahan Rafi, a 12th grader, was set ablaze a little before the start of her Alim exam just because she had filed a complaint against the principal of the Sonagazi Islamia Senior Fazil Madrasa, who had sexually harassed her on several occasions. Though she succumbed to her burn injuries, her rebellious words live on. They lay bare the rusty moral foundation of our society and how strongly it plagues its people.
The principal, Siraj Ud Doula, has had his avid supporters marching the streets of Feni for his bail. They believe he is innocent. They believe he is being framed and Nusrat was flawed.
Prior to the incident though, Nusrat's family had received threats and been told to withdraw their previous complaints (against the principal). Later, as her family pleaded for stern action and security, promises were made and words of reassurance were exchanged by the authorities. But the result turned out to be fatal, rendering their promises empty.
The principal had enjoyed impunity in many cases as he had strong links with local influential people. He had been also involved with Jamaat previously. As per a report by The Daily Star, because of his political and social clout, his past misdeeds remained covered.
In 2017, when Nusrat was 16, a report was published in the daily Manab Zamin where it was stated that some miscreants had thrown powdered lime into her eyes for rejecting an unwanted proposal.
Of course, afterwards, those responsible for the attack roamed freely while Nusrat had to sit for her exams under great duress. The police didn't bring the culprits in custody despite the Sonagazi OC's and UNO's reassurance.
After Nusrat's death, one individual responsible for setting her on fire (who was also responsible for the 2017 incident), named Nur Uddin, was detained. Had appropriate steps been taken by the authorities against Siraj Ud Doula and his accomplices earlier, perhaps Nusrat would have been alive today.
In November 2018, Sharmin, a 17-year-old student at Kazi Arif High School and College, due to sit for her SSC exams, was stabbed and killed by her stalker right in front of her school gate on the day she had attended her school session's farewell programme.
The stalker, Sigel, was a 26-year-old drug dealer, who had been harassing her for a year.
In 2016, Suriya Akhter Tisha, an eighth grader at Willes Little Flower School in Dhaka, was stabbed by her stalker, a 20-22-year-old tailor, for rejecting his advances. Her death triggered mass outrage, but to no avail.
On April 12, 14-year-old Shimla Rani Das committed suicide in Gazipur, unable to bear the pain of constant stalking and harassment by two auto-rickshaw drivers that she had to face on a regular basis.
These instances suggest that we often lose young, innocent souls because of the acts of some disgraceful creatures and the validation they receive from weak implementation of the law and its questionable custodians.
We, the students, have our own academic and personal battles to tend to. At this stage of life, we are supposed to be sketching the outlines for our future. We are supposed to be dreaming, be hopeful, and embrace change. We are supposed to have fun during festivals, sing our hearts out, watch movies, exchange jokes, and roam freely on the streets with our friends, without having to constantly worry about safety. We are supposed to go to educational institutions with the sole purpose of learning and return with dreams in our eyes and determination in our hearts, not with scars on our bodies and fear in our minds inflicted by harassers.
But things are quite gruesome today. When it's not the unruly buses running us over, knocking the life out of our bodies in seconds, it's the stalkers and the abusers of power. It's those who, despite being worthless themselves, trouble the ones at the nascent stage of their lives, preparing themselves for the future.
While travelling to and from school, one should never have to think of the fact that their stalkers may abuse them on the way. While untangling algebraic equations, one should never have to worry about an impending and unwanted marriage proposal. The harassers' words and shadows should never have to hover above the students, who are already worried sick about scoring well in exams and getting to secure a healthy future, among other issues relevant to their age.
Of course, the mechanism of legal proceedings and nabbing an alleged criminal (especially when he's influential) is complex and beyond my understanding. But is the complexity too severe to ensure students' safety from sexual predators? Is it too severe to dampen Nusrat's justice-hungry words in her diary and our collective justice-hungry psyche?
Does the cost of a perished soul only lie in our high-pitched voices when we march down the streets, but not in a permanent solution?
Shah Tazrian Ashrafi writes for SHOUT and Star Literature. Email: [email protected].