A young, lower-middle class man, a daughter of a rich businessman, united in marriage and sundered apart by a tragedy—something that shocked the conscience of Bengal and the nation. On September 21, 2007, Calcutta was jolted by the fate of 29-year-old Rizwan, who had fallen in love with Priyanka Todi, 23, the daughter of a rich hosiery businessman. Though Rizwan and Priyanka had secretly married despite the Todis’ fierce resistance, they could live in the Rehman household for just over a week, and barely a month into their marriage, the couple paid a terrible price—Rizwan’s mangled body was found on the railway tracks a few kilometers away from his home.
In his death, Rizwan became a cause celebre: Calcutta erupted in protests; this tale of an educated, albeit poor, Muslim man hated by a money-shark of a father-in-law had equal elements of drama, intrigue, blighted love, and was framed by the terrible injustice of it all. The flames were fanned further after reports emerged about the involvement of top police officers allegedly acting at the behest of Todi to separate the couple. Mamata Banerjee, then Opposition leader in the state, led the agitation demanding justice for Rizwan. It became a political hot potato for the Left Front government.
Over a decade on, a plaque at the entrance of a narrow alleyway in the working-class neighbourhood of Ghosh Bagan in Park Circus reads: ‘It’s better to have loved and won than never to have loved at all’. Sitting under the portrait of her dead son, Kishwar Jahan, 74, tells Outlook in a quivering voice: “All I want is justice for Rizwan before I die…. I don’t know why they (the CBI) are delaying the case. Those (people) responsible for my son’s death should be punished. Prominent people, including Mamata Banerjee, who visits me every year, have promised me justice…. My son died for love and I wish the girl (Priyanka Todi), who we still consider our daughter-in-law, well and hope she is happy.”
Whether Rizwan’s death was murder or suicide still remains in dispute, and the sensational case trundles on in a city sessions court. Rukbanur Rehman, Rizwan’s older brother, a sitting, two-time Trinamool Congress legislator, is determined. “If needed, we will move the constitutional bench of the Supreme Court,” Rukbanur says. After the murder snowballed into a massive controversy, the Calcutta High Court in 2007 ordered a CBI probe into Rizwan’s death. A fast-track city court in 2011 framed charges against Priyanka’s father Ashok Kumar Todi and his brother Pradeep, for abetment of suicide.
“The SC has instructed the CBI to continue with that charge and trials are on,” says Rukbanur. “We are not wealthy people…it is like pitting the right of justice for lower- and middle-class people against the might of money…a fight for acknowledgement of the common man’s rights,” he adds. Priyanka, since the death of her husband, has rarely been seen in public. She is believed to have left the country and settled abroad.
By Probir Pramanik in Calcutta
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