Calcutta Murder for Inter Religious Marriage: Commentary

 LOVE AND BE DAMNED

by Ram Puniyani

* Issues in Secular Politics, October II 2007.

When Rizanwanur Rahman, a graphic designer, was
found dead on the railway tracks of Kolkata, the
police chief without ’wasting’ any time,
instantly proclaimed that it is a case of
suicide. He had no patience to go through the
proper investigation, postmortem report etc. This
raised many a questions about the motives behind
his immediate reaction. as the circumstances of
his death raised a lot of questions at various
levels.

The back ground of the incident is very tragic.
Rizwan was coming from the slums, got trained as
a graphic designer and later married his love
Priyanka Todi, daughter of the owner of Lux
undergarment enterprise, which specializes in
marketing, aandar ki baat, an empire worth over
two hundred crores. After their marriage the
police intervened, summoned Rizwan, and commented
that it is a marriage of unequals and that it is
natural for Priyanka’s father to be upset.
Rizwan and his friend Sadiq, the witness to their
marriage, were intimidated repeatedly by the
police. Rizwan approached Association for
Protection of Democratic Rights and was to meet
them in the evening. But that meeting did not
take place as he was found dead on the railway
tracks. Just prior to this, police told the
couple that Priyanka should go back to her
fathers house, she should go back for a week,
after which police will ensure that she will come
back. The couple refused. When all these
intimidatory tactics of police failed they
threatened that either Priyanaka goes to her
fathers house or they will arrest Rizwan on the
charges of abduction and theft. This prompted
Priynaka to go to her fathers house after which
she became non-contactable for her husband. As
per the law police are to provide protection to
such couples, thats another side of the story.

To add salt to the injury the women’s commission
of West Bengal visited Prinaka Todi, at her her
fathers place. Priyanka apparently told the
commission that she wants to avoid the media
glare and wants to get over this past. Also that
she has not been pressured into to any statement.

It is not for nothing that they say, truth us
stranger than fiction. There can be some obvious
other interpretations of the same incident. That
the powerful industrialist happens to be close to
the police chief adds a minor angle to the story
as any way such powerful people can generate
their own mechanism to have their way. Whether
Rizwan was murdered or committed suicide needs a
deeper investigation, that Priyanka might have
given this statement under the duress of her
father needs to be delved a bit more. Is it
something like the case of Zaheera Shiekh, after
the Best bakery burning, disowning her statements
under allurement and pressure both. One will like
to know if Priyanak has given the statement
without the blackmail from the family and police
or is it what she really feels. All this needs a
serious investigation. So far the ’progressive’
West Bengal Government’s attitude competes with
the attitude of the administration of Narendra
Modi and many others, as far as giving justice to
the victims is concerned.

We are living in strange times. We have a
democratic constitution. Incidentally the legal
position on such cases of choosing one’s life
partner against parents wishes, was elaborated in
one Supreme Court judgment. On July 7, 2006, the
S C ruled emphatically that there can be no bar
on inter-caste or inter-religious marriages.
Those who harass, threaten or subject such a
couple have to be prosecuted. In the case
pertaining to Lata Singh SC observed, "This is a
free and democratic country,and once a person
becomes a major, he or she can marry whomsoever
he/she likes".

Parents despite their disagreement have no right
or authority on the decision of the adult
children. Maximum they can do is to cut off
social relations with the couple. By now the
cases of married couples being threatened, and
tortured in various ways are too numerous. The
society continues to be gripped by the gender
hierarchical notion that a girl cannot make her
own choice in the matters of marriage. The
patriarchal father is the one who calculates the
caste, religion, and social hierarchy before
’giving’ his daughter. And this position of women
is best exemplified in Kanyadaan (gift of
daughter) in Hindu marriage ritual. In other
religious customs also similar things prevail,
’giving away the bride’. In Pakistan, the society
is in the grip of similar hierarchical notion and
many a times when the girl makes her choice and
marries according to that, she is killed by her
own relatives, and the ’nice sounding’ but
atrocious words is prefixed to that, ’honor
killing! ’Honor’ for the family, death for the
girl!

In many parts of the country especially north
India the caste panchayats have been deciding the
fate of such couples, they are forced to
separate, the girl being asked to tie rakhi on
her husbands wrist. The boy or couple being
killed at times and in the worst of the cases the
girl being raped on the dictates of the panchayat
have also been reported. This trend cuts across
different religious communities and has most to
do with the prevalence of gender hierarchy. Other
hierarchical notions, that of economic class,
caste angles also get thrown in. With the rise in
religion based politics and the retrograde social
values, rise in such cases abound. No wonder that
worst such case is seen in Gujarat, the Hindu
rashtra, being ruled by RSS combine from last
decade or so. Here there is one Babu Bajrangi,
whose major ’religious task’ is to beat up the
couples sitting in parks. Further the couples who
have married despite their caste differences, are
bashed up by this ardent associate of RSS
combine. He does wield lot of patronage from the
powers that be, and has tired to break many a
marriages. In the same Gujarat many an attacks on
Muslim minority were engineered, on the ground
that Muslim boys are marrying Hindu girls.

In tune with this are many fatwas, where some
elements decide the fate of couples in love, or
those who have married. Cases of same Gotra
(clan) marriage being subjected to the wrath of
the community also abound.

The prevalence of these feudal hierarchical
notions and values are far and wide. Here the
women is regarded as the embodiment of family and
community honor. She is not only regarded as the
property of men, her life is controlled by the
men in different degrees. Women being the carrier
of community honor is also painfully seen during
the communal violence, when the women from the
’other community’ are subjected to ignominies and
violation of the worst type. With coming of
democratic norms the equality of women is
accepted at formal level. The process of
secularization and womens own struggle ensures
the transition form formal to substantive
equality. It is a process of struggle. The
sectarian politics, in the name of religion or
race puts the brakes on this process. The
ascendancy of these trends retards the process of
transformation towards relations of equality.
Fascism, Hitler, also assigned a particular role
to women, that of a life revolving around Kitchen
Church and Children. The Muslim fundamentalists,
Talibans, Maulana Maududi and the Hindutva
streams also give the secondary subordinate
position to women.

In India this process of secularization,
transformation in caste and gender relations
towards the one of equality, was fairly well on
its way till the decades of 80s, when the rise of
communalism has put severe brakes on this
process. What is surprising is that even in West
Bengal, which is ruled by the Left front Govt.,
the matters don’t seem to be much different. In
Rizwans case while the human tragedy is of
mammoth scale, the intolerance of high and mighty
is very intimidating. The collusion of state
machinery with the mighty gives dangerous signal
for democratic polity. Here the mighty, a Hindu
trader/industrialist, presumably upper caste,
exercises his worst possible trait, in the
pursuit of patriarchal controls over his
daughter. Rizwan coming from the background of
average to low economic status and coming from
the ’other religion’ has been his nemesis. It is
reflections of our times that the retrograde
social values are on the upswing and WB is no
exception to this down hill journey. The left
front rule does deserve the credit for operation
Barga, but the cultural scene seems to be no
different from the other places. Communalization
of social psyche is similar to the other places
in the country. On the front of communalism, the
only credit which can be given to LF government
is absence of communal violence. But absence of
violence does not mean that communalism is not
there or that the social common sense and the
social norms are any better.

How many more Rizwans will be sacrificed on the alter of the family honor?


 HIDE YOUR LOVE AWAY

by Rajashri Dasgupta

* The Times of India, 4 Oct 2007.

Rizwanur Rehman’s charming smile refuses to fade
from people’s memory. After his body was found on
September 21 on train tracks in the heart of
Kolkata, there have been numerous candlelight
vigils, angry protests and demonstrations
demanding the truth about his death.

While his family suspects that Rizwanur was
murdered, the police commissioner shrugged away
his death as a “simple case of suicide” even
before the post-mortem was complete.

Whatever the truth, Rizwanur’s tragic death, the
trauma of his wife Priyanka and brutal
interference by the police reflects the daily
struggle of lovers who defy tradition and resist
authority to marry persons of their choice.

Theirs was a romance that defied all socially appropriate norms.

While Rizwanur was a Muslim who had struggled
from the slums of Tiljala to become a graphic
designer and teacher, his 23-year-old wife,
Priyanka Todi is a Hindu and belongs to the Rs
200-crore-plus Lux hosiery andar-ki-baat-hai
business family.

The couple’s crime was the assertion of their
choice, which was seen as a direct attack on
parental authority, community, social norms and
religious beliefs.

The story of Priyanka-Rizwanur is the eternal
tale of young couples trapped between their
desire, the rights guaranteed by the law and
their socio-cultural reality. It is about how the
family, community and state agencies like the
police treat love as a criminal activity and
young lovers as criminals.

In the last few years there has been a growing
concern about the violence — popularly called
“honour killings” — which couples face when they
marry of their own choice or have a relationship.

Since marriage is the only socially sanctioned
sexual relationship, the display of romantic love
and desire by couples like Priyanka-Rizwan’s is
seen to bring “shame” on “family honour” since it
does not follow the norms of class, religion and
caste. Those who breach the social arrangement
face disapproval, stiff resistance, violence —
and even death.

Rural north India is replete with cases of crimes
committed against “love marriage” couples,
ranging from their being hounded out of the
village, the wife being forced to tie a rakhi on
her husband or the couple being hanged to death.
Urban India is not very different.

As Dinanath Bhaskar, chairperson of the scheduled
caste/scheduled tribes commission, Uttar Pradesh,
puts it: "For inter-caste and religious love affairs to
crystallise into marriage and then for the couple
to survive, they require three Ms, money, muscle
power and manpower".

The comment reflects the yawning gap between the
written law and social reality.

On July 7, 2006, the Supreme Court ruled that
there can be no bar on inter-caste or
inter-religious marriages. Anyone who harasses,
threatens or subjects such a couple to acts of
violence will be prosecuted. SC observed in Lata
Singh’s case, "This is a free and democratic
country, and once a person becomes a major he or
she can marry whomsoever he/she likes".

If the parents of the boy or girl did not approve
of the marriage, the court stated, the most they
can do is to cut off social relations.

Ironically, criminal law, intended to protect
women from forced marriages, is used against
consenting couples. The natal family in
consultation with the police and lawyers invoke
laws on rape, abduction and kidnapping to
criminalise love and frame the boy.

According to the chief counsellor, National
Commission for Women, almost half of the
“kidnapping and abduction” charges filed by
parents in “love cases” are false.

The assumption of the police and parents is that
an adult woman is incapable of choosing her own
partner — even though she can vote and decide
the future of the country — and must therefore
be coaxed, coerced or emotionally blackmailed to
do her father’s bidding.

The police actively participates in maintaining
orthodox beliefs in the name of upholding
culture. Senior officers are unmindful of the
fact that their attitude violates state law and
human rights.

Following Rizwanur’s death, the police
commissioner justified Todis’ opposition to
Priyanka’s marriage as “natural” and questioned
the desirability of relationships in which
“financial and social status” do not match. He
ended the press conference by asserting that the
police would handle similar cases
“professionally” — in the same fashion — in the
future.

The ’professionalism’ with which the Kolkata
police handled the Rizwanur-Priyanka case smacks
of its class, social and communal bias. It ends
up making marriages from personal choice look
like an illegal activity.

The couple had married under the Special Marriage
Act and on August 30, fearing harassment by the
Todis, sought police protection in writing.

Instead of helping the couple, senior officers
summoned them thrice to the police headquarters
within a week of their marriage to “persuade”
Priyanka to return to her parents and harassed
Rizwanur. She finally agreed to go to her family
for a week after the police threatened to arrest
Rizwanur for abduction and theft. A few days
later, Rizwanur was found dead on the tracks.

Perhaps the three Ms have become essential for
love to survive even in a Left, progressive state
like West Bengal.

(The writer is a Kolkata-based freelance journalist.)


 EDITORIAL - BLOOD ON THE TRACKS

The Times of India

16 Oct 2007

West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb
Bhattacharjee on Saturday met Rizwanur Rahman’s
family. This is a welcome, though belated, move.
Rizwanur, 23, was found dead next to train tracks
on September 21. His untimely death might have
become a footnote if it were not for his marriage
to Priyanka Todi, daughter of a Kolkata-based
hosiery magnate, three weeks earlier. We don’t
know whether Rizwanur was murdered, but there is
enough evidence that the Kolkata police had been
harassing him ever since he dared to cross the
religious divide to marry a Hindu girl, that too
from a wealthy family.

The circumstances surrounding Rizwanur’s death
are a stark reminder that marriages across
religion and caste are still unacceptable in
India, even in supposedly progressive cities like
Kolkata. Honour killings of couples who
transgress social boundaries still happen,
particularly in north India. Harassment of
couples who marry against their family’s wishes
is depressingly frequent. A worrying feature is
the role of the police who often slap charges of
rape, abduction and kidnapping against the groom
in such cases.

In Rizwanur’s case, the Kolkata police have not
acted any differently. Before his death, Rizwanur
handed over a statement to human rights
organisations with details of how the police,
including two IPS officers of deputy commissioner
rank, had threatened him and his newly-wed wife.
Kolkata police commissioner Prasun Mukherjee,
too, has come off poorly. Soon after Rizwanur’s
death, he dismissed it as a "simple case of
suicide". He even suggested that the police were
bound to intervene in a marriage where the
families were against it, conveniently ignoring
the fact that both the persons involved here were
adults. Rizwanur’s death provides yet another
example of the police’s unhealthy proximity with
social elites. It is the job of the police to
maintain a detached character for the good of the
people. But all over India, policemen are seen as
being close to the political and social power
centres, so much so that senior appointments are
almost never made without the assent of the
ruling party.

The only bright spot in the Rizwanur episode is
the sustained pressure put by civil society on
the West Bengal government to identify the
guilty. At present, there is a judicial as well
as a CID probe being conducted into

Rizwanur’s death. The only way some credibility
can be recovered by law-enforcing agencies would
be to punish those responsible - however well
connected they might be - for snuffing out a
young life.


 YOUNG LOVE, OLD RULES

Marriages based on caste, class and creed are
still the norm. The society is fundamentalist at
a basic level.

The Telegraph

October 07, 2007

Muslim boy meets Marwari girl. They fall in love.
The girl’s family is vehemently opposed to the
match. Boy and girl get married and the couple
move into the boy’s house. When pleas and threats
fail to bring the girl back home, her father
calls the cops and ensures that she is sent back
to her parents for seven days. Ten days later,
the boy is found dead near the railway tracks.

The tragic end to the Rizwanur Rahman-Priyanka
Todi affair has once again highlighted the
insurmountable barriers that often come to the
surface in the case of mixed marriages. Even in
these “progressive” times, when matrimonial sites
use the word extensively, and in a “progressive”
city like Calcutta. Study what you want to, but
marry whom we want you to - remains the parental
diktat. Or at least someone whom we will approve
of. And most children obey their parents. Few
defy norms, like Rizwanur and Priyanka, and if
they do, they pay a price.

In the Marwari community, the rules are strict.
"There is an unwritten law that the marriage of a
Marwari boy or girl outside the community is
sacrilege. If a girl marries outside the
community it sometimes becomes a matter of honour
for the parents," says Ravi Santhalia, a Marwari
businessman from Lake Town. Priyanka studying
computer graphics was fine; but she could not
fall in love and marry her teacher. The community
largely feels that the way the Todis dealt with
the marriage is unacceptable, but it does not
mean that it is ready to accept marrying a Muslim.

It is wrong, however, to think that Marwaris
alone resist the idea - it’s the same for all
communities, including “liberal”, educated
Bengali Hindus. "The Rizwanur incident is the
result of a clash between progressive and
conservative values, which is present in every
society. In this case the approach has been
arrogant and inhumane," says Prabha Khaitan,
social worker and author. "But this attitude is
not peculiar to one community."

The limit

While Paroma Bhattacharya (name changed), an IT
professional, and Rahil Mirza (name changed), an
engineer, both 27 years old, were just friends,
the two families would visit each other on social
occasions and celebrate festivals together. But
everything changed when word was out that they
were in love and wanted to get married. Each
family accused the other of trying to lure their
child. Paroma and Rahil now meet in secret
without the knowledge of their parents.

"Romantic marriages are still not the norm in our
society. One can find hordes of advertisements
for negotiated marriages based on caste and class
and at some basic level the society is still
fundamentalist. This is why such marriages become
an issue," says sociologist Bula Bhadra.

The money factor

Rizwanur had committed a double crime - he not
only belonged to a different community but also
to a poorer class (as a computer graphics
teacher, he earned Rs 10,000 per month; Ashok,
Priyanka’s father, is the owner of Lux Cozi, a Rs
200-crore company). Though even Bollywood has to
admit that inter-community marriages, such as the
Hindu-Muslim marriage in Bombay or the
Gujarati-Tamil marriage in Ek Duje Ke Liye, are
problematic, mainstream Indian films are often
based on the poor-boy-meets-rich-girl theme and
they usually live happily ever after. Real life
seems to be different.

In urban societies, after the religious divide,
it’s possibly the money factor that matters most.
It is not known what the Todis found more
objectionable about Rizwanur - his religion or
his class. "Religion is not the only problem. We
are also extremely class conscious, which adds to
the whole issue,“feels Bhadra.”Most parents want their daughter to marry into a
household more affluent than theirs. Especially
because the social status and nature of the
household endorses their social status," says
Mudar Patherya, a communication consultant.

He should know. Mudar did not have to suffer
Rizwanur’s fate, but had acted similarly. A
devout Muslim, he married Shalini, a Hindu girl,
and faced huge opposition from the girl’s family.
It was not just on the basis of religion, but
also because of the difference in economic
background. "When I got married in 1993, we faced
opposition, especially because of the
repercussions of the communal riots on the Babri
Masjid issue. But the difference in our economic
background was also a reason," he says.

With religion and socio-economic status, caste
and region play an important role for an
overwhelming majority.

What keeps it going

The Indian sense of tradition. Matrimonial
columns in newspapers, even those which come with
the tag of “caste no bar”, mention the
candidate’s caste. The “cosmopolitan” ads hardly
come with the declaration “religion no bar”. It
is either Naidu parents looking for a bride or a
Baidya girl looking for a groom.

A matrimonial column will have categories on the
basis of language, religion, age, caste,
community and profession. The search engines of
portals like shaadi.com and bharatmatrimony ask
the user to enter whether it is a bride or a
groom one is searching for, the age of the
candidate and the community, with options such as
- Hindu: Assamese, Hindu: Bengali, Muslim: Shia,
Muslim: Sunni, Christian: Protestant, Christian:
Born again. There are even categories like
“spiritual”.

Online message boards on marriage as an
institution have various responses from young
Indians, and most of them are conservative.

"We spoil our tradition if we marry outside our
community," is one of the responses on a message
board on rediff.com that deals with the issue of
marrying outside the community.

Another post on the board reads: "Inter-religion
marriage - not good between certain communities;
inter-caste marriage - up to the individualŠ.
religion is a dicey thing.... You will lose
everything, your roots, and your anchor in the
form of your family and your identity. Don’t do
it.... Some communities have never come to accept
individual choices, it is better to stay away
from themŠ inter-caste marriage is fine as long
as both the boy and girl are okay with it."

Differences in tastes, customs, value system, are
raised as reasons why inter-community marriages
should still be considered taboo.

Social repercussions

Parental opposition alone does not make life
difficult for the younger generation trying to
break out of conservative norms. "It becomes
difficult for other brothers and sisters of that
girl to get a match in the community," feels
Santhalia. Both the communities also consider
children of the couple outsiders.

There are very few support systems in place for
such couples. Apart from problems such as not
getting places to rent, they also lack a platform
where they can be heard.

"There is definitely a lack of dedicated forums
for such cases, though many of them go to women’s
organisations and other local organisations,"
feels Nilanjana Gupta, a coordinator of an NGO
called Saman that has dealt with cases of
inter-caste and inter-religion marriages.

It is not just marriage that is underlined by
communal and caste-based differences - these are
deep-rooted beliefs that are part and parcel of
the Indian society, feels Gupta. "Platforms for
interactions between different communities are
still not readily available. As a result biases
regarding different communities exist," she says.

There is a ray of hope, feel some. Response to
inter-caste or inter-community marriages is not
all negative, feels Gupta. "There is a problem
regarding social acceptance by family and
neighbours, but it is not always the case," says
Gupta. Initial resistance often gives way to
acceptance, once parents see that their children
are happy and Mudar and Shalini are an example.

"We have been accepted not only by the immediate
family but by the extended family as well," says
Mudar. He and Shalini started the candlelight
vigil outside St Xavier’s College for Rizwanur,
as a symbol of protest on behalf of the residents
of the city.

But it is difficult to feel hopeful while the
banality of Rizwanur’s death stalks the city
every moment.

(Those wanting to volunteer for the candle-light
vigil can call 9874304494 or email
justizforriz gmail.com)


 CALCUTTA RIZWAN MURDER - RUN, RABBIT RUN...

Rizwan was hounded to death for daring to marry
for love. Calcutta weeps for him.

by Jaideep Mazumdar

* Outlook Magazine| Oct 22, 2007.

Fifteen summers ago, a 15-year-old student of St
Lawrence School in Calcutta earned kudos for his
superb direction of a short play on inter-faith
love. After facing the usual trials and
tribulations, the play’s protagonists ’lived
happily ever after’. Fifteen years later, having
fallen in love and married a girl from another
faith, Rizwanur Rehman realised that real life
can be cruelly different. A police force acting
at the behest of his rich father-in-law ensured
that Rizwan and his new bride Priyanka’s love
story ended in tragedy.

Rizwan’s mysterious death, followed by highly
offensive statements by Calcuttta’s police chief,
have sparked unprecedented outrage, galvanised
the citizenry to stage daily protest rallies and
candle-light vigils, triggered SMS and web
campaigns and an outpouring of condemnation and
anger against the police and Chief Minister
Buddhadeb Bhattacharya. Criminal Investigation
Department (CID) and judicial probes ordered by
an embattled Buddhadeb have failed to placate
protesters, who are demanding a CBI investigation
and stern punishment to the police officers
instrumental in separating the couple.

There was no reason for this
poor-boy-meets-rich-girl story to play out the
way it did. Rizwan, from a poor Muslim family,
was educated, intelligent, hardworking and
decent. A topper in school, he did his
undergraduate course in English at St Xavier’s
College. His father, a Grade IV employee with a
small private firm, had passed away by then and
Rizwan used to give private tuitions to fund his
education. After graduation, he completed a
course in graphic designing and became a graphic
design teacher at a popular software education
centre.

Friends, teachers, colleagues, students and
neighbours all remember Rizwan as an outstanding
human being-his wit and charm made him utterly
lovable, they say. They refuse to believe, as the
police claim, that he committed suicide. Rizwan
and Priyanka fell in love, but kept their affair
secret till they got married on August 18 this
year under the Special Marriage Act. Priyanka was
aware of Rizwan’s humble background, having
visited his home thrice before the marriage. She
left home on August 31 and shifted to Rizwan’s
place before informing her father, Ashok Todi,
owner of the Rs 200-crore Lux Cozi hosiery brand,
about her marriage and her decision to live with
her husband and in-laws.

That was when all hell broke loose. Todi, along
with relatives, and some employees of his company
rushed to the Rehmans’ small Tiljala Lane flat in
the Muslim-dominated Park Circus area. "He stayed
here the whole night trying to convince his
daughter to end the marriage," Rizwan’s elder
brother Rukban told Outlook. "He threatened and
pleaded with Priyanka to return home, but she
refused. He was here for nearly 12 hours and went
away angry the next morning, before threatening
Rizwan with dire consequences," recalled Rukban.
Before going to the Rehman house, Todi had
approached the local Karaya police station to
intervene. But the cops, having learnt that
Rizwan (30) and Priyanka (23) were adults and had
married of their own free will, refused to step
in, especially at the orders of their boss-the
Calcutta police deputy commissioner (south) Jawed
Shamim-reputed to be an honest, upright officer.

Having been rebuffed by the local police, Todi
decided to approach Police Commissioner Prasun
Mukherjee. He asked his business associate
Snehasish Ganguly (elder brother of cricketer
Sourav Ganguly) to get him an appointment with
Mukherjee. Snehashish, an office-bearer of the
Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) of which
Mukherjee is the president, took Todi along to
meet the police chief. Mukherjee directed Todi to
deputy commissioner (headquarters) Gyanwant Singh
who, in turn, referred him to deputy commissioner
(detective department) Ajoy Kumar.Todi filed two
false complaints, the first saying his daughter
was missing and the second accusing Rizwan of
abduction and wrongful confinement. The police
officers got into the act, summoning the couple
to Lalbazar Police Headquarters thrice,
’counselling’ Priyanka to go back to her parents
while threatening and abusing Rizwan. Ultimately,
on September 8, Kumar told Rizwan that he would
be arrested on the basis of Todi’s complaint if
Priyanka didn’t return to her parents’ plush,
three-storied Salt Lake residence.

Faced with this, Priyanka agreed, but not before
getting two written assurances from her uncle
Anil Saraogi (who was present in the police
officer’s chamber)-that she would be allowed to
return after a week and that Rizwan wouldn’t be
threatened or harmed during this period. Kumar
stood guarantee to these assurances. That was the
last the two saw of each other. They kept in
touch over the phone, but only till September 11.
After that, all calls Rizwan made to his wife and
father-in-law went unanswered. Meanwhile, the
city police continued to threaten Rizwan’s friend
Sadique Hossain, a witness to the marriage,
telling him he would be framed in a murder charge
if he didn’t state that Rizwanur forced Priyanka
into marriage. Hossain went to inspector general
of police (enforcement branch) Nazrul Islam to
complain. While he was in Islam’s chamber, a
sub-inspector named Krishnendu Das called Hossain
on his cellphone to threaten him. Islam heard the
threats, and on identifying himself, was told by
Das that he was acting on orders. That was
exactly what Das and his immediate boss,
assistant commissioner Sukanti Chakraborty, told
their CID interrogators later.

Fearing for his life and suspecting that his wife
was being held prisoner, Rizwan approached a
human rights body, the Association for Protection
of Democratic Rights (APDR) with a written
complaint detailing police harassment against him
and his friends. "I had detailed discussions with
Rizwan and he was prepared to fight the police
and his in-laws to get his wife back. He was cool
and determined," APDR secretary Sujato Bhadra
told Outlook. Bhadra scheduled a meeting with
officers at Lalbazar for September 21 afternoon
and Rizwan promised to accompany him. "At about 7
am that day (Sep 21)," recalls Rizwan’s brother
Rukban, "my brother received a phone call that
was traced to a PCO booth at Lake Town. He went
out immediately, saying he’d be back in two
hours." At 10.11 am, Rizwan called up Bhadra to
confirm that he would meet him in front of
Lalbazar that afternoon.

Around 10.30 am, Rizwan’s body was discovered on
the railway tracks about 15 minutes’ walking
distance from the Lake Town PCO. The nature of
his injuries and the way the body was lying on
the tracks have strengthened the conviction of
many that he was murdered.

Park Circus erupted in riots the next day, and
the day after, Mukherjee’s intemperate comments
fuelled people’s anger further. Asserting that
Rizwan had committed suicide, Mukherjee defended
the Todis: "After taking care of their daughter
for 23 years, if the family finds she has left
them to start a new life with an unknown youth,
parents cannot accept it. The reaction of the
Todi family was natural.... They reacted because
Rizwan’s social and financial status didn’t match
theirs." Mukherjee added the police have dealt
with such cases in a “similar manner” and would
continue to do so. His comments have evoked
widespread condemnation-from former CMs
Siddhartha Shankar Ray and Jyoti Basu, senior
cabinet ministers, former police chiefs and
intellectuals to thousands of ordinary people-and
strengthened the suspicion that the police acted
at Todi’s behest.

Todi, a small-time trader from the Marwari hub of
Barabazar till a decade ago, was hugely
successful over the past few years after he set
up his hosiery unit.He was arrested as the
kingpin of a cricket betting racket in the
mid-’90s, but released without charges. Many
people, including state transport minister Subhas
Chakraborty, have demanded a probe into the
Todis’ rise. Public works minister Kshiti Goswami
has alleged that Todi financed police
commissioner Prasun Mukherjee’s campaign for the
CAB president’s post. Todi did in fact sponsor a
musical soiree at Lalbazar Police HQ earlier this
year, and donated 800 T-shirts to the city cops
during an anti-drug rally a few months ago.

Some of the public anger against the police chief
has found its way to the CM as well, since he
backed Mukherjee against Jagmohan Dalmiya in the
CAB elections. Suspicions have also grown about a
’cover-up job’ being ordered from the top. "Our
government’s actions till now inspire little
confidence. Injustice has been done to Rizwan,
and we’re not appearing to do justice now. The
judicial probe will only put this case in cold
storage," Chakraborty told Outlook.

Meanwhile, the 18-hour candle-light vigil on the
pavement outside St Xavier’s College on Park
Street gathered momentum, with swelling crowds
writing messages and poems, vowing to fight for
justice. "It’s as if Calcutta is reaffirming its
identity as a cosmopolitan, tolerant, inclusive
city,“comments sociologist Bratati Gupta.”Rizwan is like our boy-next-door who has worked
hard to rise in life, is the sort of young man
who is an ideal for every middle-class family.
That he has been so grossly wronged by the
moneyed and the powerful is something Calcuttans
can’t digest, and they feel personally
responsible for ensuring justice." Every day,
scores of people cutting across religious, age
and class barriers visit the Rehmans. Rizwan’s
mother Kishwar Jahan tells them to ensure that no
other mother suffers the tragedy of her son being
killed for falling in love. And that she won’t be
cooking his favourite biriyani every Sunday.
Outside, neighbours say they won’t be celebrating
Eid or Durga Puja this year. Nor, for that
matter, will many others in Calcutta.

© Outlook Publishing (India) Private Limited

P.S.

* Circulated by South Asia Citizens Wire | October 16-18, 2007 |
Dispatch No. 2461 - Year 10 running.

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