LEADER ARTICLE: Hide Your Love Away

Rajashri Dasgupta, Oct 4, 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.

Source: Times of India