Nusrat passed away after five days of sufferings on 10 April. She was burnt to death for filing a case against her madrasa principal for sexual abuse. The 18-year-old sought punishment for the principal Siraj ud Doula- the main accused for sexually harassing the victim- and others who set her on fire, leading to her death.
In a society that is rotten to its core, Nusrat was a hero, indeed. The courage she displayed in her deathbed was a slap in our face, a slap we needed as people of a dormant society that has been reluctant to stand up against socio-political injustice.
Many argue, hailing Nusrat’s courage isn’t helping eliminate this malignant continuous onslaught against women in our society. I beg to differ. Hailing good and denouncing evil begets the same. Nusrat’s death was never expected, but her courage of protest must be dignified!
People are reacting. Maybe less on the street, more on social media. But they are reacting. They are asking, who’s next?
A debate may arise, people will forget about Nusrat after few days as new issues will come forward. It is not the people who forget. It is the injustice brought by years of silence and other injustice that create new incidents like Nusrat’s death and people are lost in that jungle.
Keeping silent or not dignifying Nusrat’s courage will do no good. People shackled in their daily life problems are reacting, at least on social media. Who knows, the bubbles may bring a big bang one day!
The question is, will bringing Nusrat’s perpetrators to justice be all? Will it even contribute towards eradicating the ongoing violence against women? I fear, no. Bringing to justice is one of the many fronts of these crimes. It is deep rooted in the society and system.
A colleague said the other day, there is a misconception in our society that women moving out of home means women empowerment. He was right. Women empowerment is related and to some extent is solely dependent on the emancipation of the overall society.
The half of a society cannot move forward if the remaining half acts as predators.
Nusrat, an Alim examinee, was doused in kerosene and set on fire by the accomplices of Maulana Siraj Ud Doula, principal of Sonagazi Islamia Senior Fazil Madrasa, for not withdrawing a case filed against him for sexual harassment. The girl’s mother filed a case against the principal on 27 March which was the reason for the attack on 6 April.
Following the law suit, the principal was arrested. After the heinous attack on Nusrat, several other accused were also arrested one by one. Why did police not arrest them before? On the contrary, police tried to forge the case statement and made dubious remarks after the victim was set on fire.
Also, after the arrest of the principal the victim’s family was threatened, told to withdraw the case and another group came out on the streets in support of the accused principal.
Now we all know about the political influence of Siraj Ud Doula and his many earlier wrongdoings using that power. How on earth it is possible that the local administration was not aware of that?
The practice of using social and political power to evade legal actions are being used everywhere. Also, the practice of normalising violence to tackle any socio political dispute has increased.
For instance, two recent rape incidents in election disputes - a mother of four after the national election and a mother of five after the upazila parishad election.
Solving one particular incident in face of public demand is not enough. The government has to eliminate the culture of impunity and normalising political crimes once and for all.
As many as 12 accused in Nusrat’s murder are arrested so far. If it can be done now, it could have been done earlier. Quick action could have saved Nusrat. Records of cases and allegations were right in front of the administration against Siraj Ud Doula. He was arrested in a case of cheque forgery of millions last year. Allegations of sexual harassment wasn’t new. What made him get away with any obnoxious crime under the nose of the administration? What does the model of a Model Police station imply?
In addition to that, the predator is not only the principal and the attackers. Each and every person who pushed the incident or closed their eyes are criminals. The officer in charge of Sonagazi police station was no less responsible for what happened in Nusrat’s case.
The government must know, no matter how hard it tries to preach women’s empowerment, this will never be achieved without abolishing the practice of using gender violence as a weapon by the political groups.
Otherwise, people will rise. People will take to the streets. People are capable to shake anyone up. It is the public sentiment that these political parties feed on. They feed on the public’s faith- their faith in religion, democracy, safety and rights that they deserve. Betraying public sentiment will only bring in the inevitable consequences.
History shows, if the people in charge fail to rule, the mob will rule, in their own way.
*Farjana Liakat works for Prothom Alo and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org