Love and be damned: Rizwan’s story

By Ram Puniyani

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.

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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 father’s 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 father’s house or they will arrest Rizwan on the charges of abduction and theft. This prompted Priynaka to go to her father’s house after which she became non-contactable for her husband. As per the law police are to provide protection to such couple, that’s another side of the story.

To add salt to the injury the women’s commission of West Bengal visited Prinaka Todi, at her father’s 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 make any statement.

It is not for nothing that they say, truth is 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 Priyanka 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. Most 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 women’s 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?

Dr. Ram Puniyani’s website is