Nusrat: Name of a Protest
Pratiti Shirin writes for DOT
Nusrat Jahan Rafi died on 6th April after fighting with 80 per cent burn in her body and testifying against the principal against whom she had filed a police case for sexual harassment, while she was undergoing an agonizing treatment. It is astounding what the human mind is capable of doing. The girl was buried under bandage but she clearly stated in that stage how the principal was harassing her and how she was set on fire by a group of girls her age under the principal’s tutelage.
Nusrat hailed from Feni. While people originating for that place are particularly noted for their courage, why does Nusrat stand out? Why did Nusrat make the entire nation feel for at least 5 days that it was burning along with her? It was her outstanding spirit that took the entire nation by surprise. While lying in unbearable physical pain, she clearly said that she had the right to talk to boys but it was unacceptable that the principal of her madrasa who was her father’s age, made sexual advances towards her. That she would fight for obtaining justice. It was this extraordinary voice of protest that had taken the nation off-guard. While the investigation against the principal proceeded, it was discovered that he was under the patronage of powerful men like local Awami League leaders and that might have been the reason the former found the atrocity to burn up Nusrat by using some of her very own classmates for this hideous act. One can only surmise that these girls were outraged at Nusrat from before for some reason so that they also carried out their personal vendetta on her by setting her on fire. Outspoken girls like Nusrat do not have many friends; nor do they obtain love; more often than not they are solitary individuals with outstanding leadership qualities and they incur the wrath and jealousy of other people. In Nusrat’s case, it was her own classmates. Seen in politically correct terms, this was a tug-of-war between the principal and his allies and Nusrat, for proving themselves to be powerful. The sexual aspect was only one dimension of this power play. The girls who attacked her were afraid because Nusrat had guts: something young women of this society generally lack. She raised her voice against the injustice perpetrated against her. This is extraordinary in a madrasa context. Girls are supposed to be silent and timid, crying silently when they are sexually and otherwise harassed by anyone. But far from crying, this girl defied societal conventions and norms when she in her deathbed expressed her anger at a rotten system which had destroyed her life. It is precisely here that Nusrat becomes so extraordinary. She did not cry out of pain but raised her voice in anger demanding justice. The fire could not kill her indomitable soul. It is this that shook the soul of the nation.
We can only hope that Nusrat obtains the justice that was her last wish. That she is not forgotten and that her death does not go in vain. One way of honouring her last wish is to change current sexual harassment laws which give no clear outline as of yet with regards to dealing with the perpetrators of such crimes. The Prevention of Repression against Women and Children Act of 2000 allowed perpetrators to be imprisoned for 2 to 7 years with a fine of an indefinite amount. But its amendment in 2003 meant that this Act has become virtually ineffective since then. Media and various stakeholders and women’s rights advocates have demanded a separate law against minor and major sexual harassment of women. It is time that the government pays heed to them and amends current laws to raise the maximum penalty for sexual harassment from short-term imprisonment to life time imprisonment, death sentence and chemical castration. It is not enough that a sexual predator gets away with only a few years in jail and that too under bail. If strict laws are drafted and enacted, crimes of such nature will automatically be reduced. And that is the only way Nusrat will obtain justice.
The writer is an Assistant Professor, Department of English, University of Dhaka, Dhaka, Bangladesh. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.