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Puja wishes for a ‘liberal’ state

Liberal Calcutta’s breath was taken away when the square-jawed police commissioner Prasun Mukherjee said it was “natural” for Priyanka’s family to oppose the marriage, writes Indrajit Hazra.
Hindustan Times | By Indrajit Hazra
UPDATED ON OCT 14, 2007 01:33 AM IST

On this day next week, the terribly liberal city of Calcutta will still be bathed in the magic of Durga Pujo. This being a terribly liberal city, the pujas will hardly be celebrated by Bengali Hindus alone. All across the city, Bengali Hindus will enjoy the festivities with non-Bengalis and non-Hindus; police officers will pass fish orleys around to industrialists; Marwaris will hop from one pandal to another happily brushing shoulders with Muslims. Oh, it will be a glorious six days of utter bonhomie and fun that will cut across class, religion and shoe size.

On this day next week, it’ll also be exactly a month since the body of computer graphics instructor Rizwanur Rahman was found on a train track. For those of you understandably too busy all this while worrying about the passage of the nuclear deal, the death of a 30-year-old man in the heart of a state ruled by very bhadralok communists looks like a tragic anomaly that needn’t be seen as a cause for major alarm. After all, even if the police are wrong about branding the death as a suicide, the death of Rizwanur is no Gujarat massacre.

But even liberal Calcuttans — who, poor things, somehow think that Calcutta is overwhelmingly inhabited by people like themselves — have been busy proclaiming how behind the liberal façade of ‘Park Street’ camaraderie, Bengalis in Shyambazar, Marwaris in Barabazar and Muslims in Rajabazar, shudder and shrink when it comes to inter-community activities as up-close and personal as marriage.

Playing outraged sociologist, however, is missing the point. A wealthy family having serious issues about a daughter marrying outside its socio-economic-religious fold is not the same as ‘hiring’ cops to bump off the ‘intruder’. Rizwanur and Priyanka Todi had married against the wishes of Priyanka’s father, Ashok Todi, the owner of the Rs 200 crore-plus Lux Hosiery Industries. Eight days after their marriage was certified, the police registered a case of abduction against Rizwanur. Threats followed. On September 18, Sadique Hossain, Rizwanur’s friend who was a witness to the marriage, was threatened with arrest for ‘forcing’ Priyanka into the marriage. (He went underground only to surface earlier this week.) The next day, Rizwanur approached a human rights organisation stating how he had been threatened by the police. Two days later, his lifeless body was discovered.

Liberal Calcutta’s breath was taken away when the square-jawed police commissioner Prasun Mukherjee stated that it was “natural” for Priyanka’s family to oppose the marriage and that the police were bound to intervene. Then came statements from the policemen under investigation that they were “merely following instructions from their superiors”. CID investigators also stated that they were told to go slow on the investigations.

The fact that Prasun Mukherjee was allegedly ‘helped’ by Ashok Todi during the Cricket Association of Bengal presidential elections may point matters to a certain direction. The fact that Mukherjee has been Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s blue-eyed cop points further in the same direction. For a state that ranks very high in the number of custodial deaths — and is a genius when it comes to keeping them beyond the pale of investigations — how impossible is it for a politicised police force to ‘sort out’ a well-connected man’s personal problem?

If Prasun Mukherjee is not sacked by his superior by this day next week, I will send Buddhababu, a competent translator of Vladimir Mayakovsky, the following lines by the Russian poet: “In my view/ it is/ stupid/ to be/ always serene.” It’s up to the rest of us — both in Calcutta and across the nation of which Calcutta, last I heard, is still part of — to then decide whether we would like to remain stupidly serene about what happened to an innocent man in terribly liberal Bengal.

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