Raudha Athif, a 20-year-old medical student and a fashion model from Maldives, was found dead in her hostel room at Islami Bank Medical College in Rajshahi on March 29.
Several initial reports ruled it a suicide, but the court has rejected all of them and so has the family. Now the police Criminal Investigation Department (CID) is investigating a murder case filed by the girl's father.
The delays in investigation, the refusal of college authorities to give access to eyewitnesses and above all, the doubts raised by the father, a doctor, about the forensic evidence and the circumstances of death leave room for the possibility that a murder has been committed. Even more alarmingly, as the father has alleged, there is a possibility that a murder has been covered up.
On April 10, Raudha’s father filed a murder case with a Rajshahi court, accusing Seerat Parveen Mohammad, a Kashmiri student and close friend of the victim.
The six-storey girls dormitory where Raudha lived stands amid a dense covering of greenery inside the grounds of Islami Bank Medical College Hospital, at a slight distance from the three other structures there, a hospital, an academic building and a mosque. It is surrounded by a boundary wall, and so is the entire campus.
The campus itself is somewhat outside the city centre, about four km from the Shah Makhdum Airport.
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="800"] The girls' dormitory at Islami Bank Medical College in Rajshahi Azahar Uddin/Dhaka Tribune[/caption]
Raudha, apart from being a successful model, was an exceptionally talented student who was eligible for a Maldives Ministry of Education student loan. The loan was eligible for education at a number of institutions at selected countries. The Islami Bank Medical College was one among them.
Raudha's father questions evidence
Mohamed Athif, a doctor, has been questioning the investigation and autopsy from the very beginning. He told the Dhaka Tribune there were numerous inconsistencies with the college narrative, the autopsy report and the police queries.
“There were no signs of forced entry into her room. If they banged on the door and broke it open, there would have been clear signs. I myself pounded on it for 10 minutes, the latch did not budge.
The ligature marks around her neck were not caused by a scarf, they were too deep and narrow. In a hanging, the marks would be much higher, near her jawline and ears, as the rope would pull up
“In the autopsy, the doctors failed to explain a number of things – the ligature marks around her neck could not have been caused by a scarf, the injuries were too deep and narrow. If she hanged herself, the marks would have appeared much higher, reaching up to her jawline and ears, as the cord or rope would pull up.
“The marks were around the middle of her neck, more consistent with homicidal strangulation.
“There is a deep impression on her throat, the autopsy doctors called it a birthmark. For 20 years there were no such marks on her neck. Do you know what the doctors told me? They said sometimes birthmarks appear after death!”
He said, quoting Raudha’s mother: “A week before her death, Raudha called her mother and said Seerat had offered her a glass of juice while they were studying together one night. Raudha had fallen asleep quickly and suspected Seerat of lacing the drink.”
Dr Athif questioned the objectivity of the three-member autopsy team, since two of its members teach at Islami Bank Medical College.
What they saw
Following is a reconstruction of the night before and morning after the girl's death, based on initial reports by police and college authorities.
Around 11pm on March 28 Tuesday, Raudha, who stayed alone in Room 209 on the second flor of the building, came to the adjacent room of Ayesha Naz Faiyaz – another student from Maldives – to borrow her laptop. Ayesha had to turn her down as her laptop was out of charge. According to all the witness testimonies, that was the last anyone saw of Raudha.
The morning after, Seerat knocked on her door like she did every morning to go to their classes together and found no response.
Around 11am, Seerat worried that Raudha had overslept. Peering through a narrow gap between the two door panels, she saw Raudha’s body hanging from the ceiling and began to scream.
Students from the floor ran there. In between sobs, she could only point towards the door and mumble: “Raudha, Raudha!”
Several more students peeked into the room and began to pound on the door. The witness testimonies say at one point the latch, of which there are two, came open and the girls rushed into the room. One of the girls, Insha, quickly grabbed a knife and cut down the scarf by which Raudha was hanging. With the help of the others, she placed Raudha on the bed.
The hostel staff were quickly informed. Dr Laila Akter, the hostel superintendent, arrived at the scene around 11:30pm. Shah Makhdum police were called. The Maldives Embassy was called and her family informed. The body was taken to Rajshahi Medical College morgue.
The next day, her mother and one of her brothers flew in from Maldives, and her divorced father came from India.
The day after, March 31 Friday, two doctors from the Islami Bank hospital and one from Rajshahi Medical did the autopsy and Raudha was buried in the afternoon.
The autopsy concluded it was a suicide, based on which the police filed an unnatural death case, which the court refused to accept on April 2 Sunday as a magistrate was not present at the inquest. Instead, the matter was transferred to the Detective Branch of police, who also concurred it was a suicide. Once again, the court refused to accept the case.
On April 15 Saturday, CID took over the case and began the third chapter of investigations. The next day, the CID forensic IT team took custody of her laptop and iPhone.
On April 18 Tuesday, the court granted CID permission to exhume Raudha’s body for a second autopsy. CID officials say the body will be exhumed on April 24.
Many issues have been raised about the conduct of the police and the college authorities in this incident. After the death, the crime scene was not sealed for several days. Press cameras followed the police entering the room the next day with a throng of college members in tow. When two Maldivian police officials arrived to look at the crime scene, they were seen holding the scarf with which Raudha allegedly committed suicide with bare hands.
In conversation with one of our correspondents, a police detective appeared dismissive of the murder allegations, saying it was a “clean-cut case of suicide.”
However, the CID says it has not yet ruled out any possibility.
*Police handled the body for an inquest without a magistrate being present.
*The initial reports claimed the body was found around 9:30am on March 29. But all final reports delayed the time to 11:30am.
*The marks on her neck are not consistent with suicidal hanging or with the scarf with which she allegedly killed herself.
*Stress-test on the fan revealed that no heavy weight had been attached to it.
*Raudha's corpse did not exhibit any of the three most common outcomes of hanging - saliva dribbling from the side of the mouth, blood running from the nose and eyes, drooping tongue.
CID Additional Special Superintendent of Police Kazi Muhammad Shafi Iqbal told the Dhaka Tribune he personally visited the room.
He confirmed there is a narrow gap between the door panels, which would allow a person to peek inside the room. He also said the door latch was old and weak and came off when he pounded on the door several times.
He said: “We are not going to jump to conclusions, the possibility of a suicide and murder both exist.”
The CID team checked the ceiling fan for any stress induced by having a large weight attached to it, but found no such evidence, he said.
The Dhaka Tribune has been able to scrutinise photos of Raudha's room taken by the Crime Scene Unit. Several photos show chopped vegetables on the kitchen counter, meat on a frying pan. One photo of the victim shows a packet of rat poison next to her on the bed.
Dr Athif pointed out that Raudha had no dribbling of saliva near her mouth or her tongue hanging out, as is common with hanging cases. He claimed the autopsy team did not check whether Raudha’s trachea was crushed, one of the many common outcomes of death by hanging.
The college probe report concluded it was a suicide, as filed by a four-member committee, one of whom was also part of the autopsy team.
The Dhaka Tribune has reached out to the accused Seerat, but has yet to hear a response.
Abdul Aziz Riyad, college spokesperson, stated Seerat will not speak to anyone but the police and the Indian High Commission since “her name has been dragged through the mud by the media.”
“She feels humiliated. She is being accused of murdering her best friend, this is devastating for her.”
The 15 Bangladeshi students from the hostel that our correspondents spoke to, repeated almost the same words.
“Raudha was a wonderful person. She was a good student and friendly with everyone, but none of us actually knew her,” they said.
The medical college was established in 2003 by Islami Bank Bangladesh. The bank is known for its deep ties to Jamaat-e-Islami. A four-year MBBS degree there costs $40,000 or TK32 lakh.
Raudha’s father had initially refused the exhuming of her body for a second autopsy, but later relented. The CID will exhume the body on Monday to conduct the autopsy with a new forensic team.