A Heinous Crime
Kolkata continues to be rocked by the murder of Rizwanur Rehman, the young teacher of graphic design at a computer education centre. The highly offensive statements made by Kolkata Police Commissioner Prasun Mukherjee after the crime has shocked and outraged all of us. The show of support and the cry for justice has been unprecedented. More so because the stench of a cover-up operation being underway is just too strong for any of us to ignore.
And from all available indications, the CID and judicial probes ordered by Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee would give senior police officers who were instrumental in separating Rizwanur from his beloved, his wife Priyanka, a clean chit. And would perhaps pronounce his death to be a case if suicide. There is a serious trust deficit hogging these probes. Kolkatans just don't have faith in these probes, considering the circumstances in which they were ordered and the developments that have occurred over the past 20-odd days since Rizwanur's body was found on the railway tracks on September 21.
Had the police commissioner been removed immediately (after he justified breaking up the marriage on grounds of wide disparities in social and economic status between Priyanka's family--the
Todis--and the Rehmans), had the two deputy commissioners of Kolkata Police been suspended for counseling Priyanka to leave her husband and threatening Rizwanur, had the state ordered a CBI probe immediately, had it followed established norms like asking the Supreme Court or Calcutta High Court Chief Justice to name a judge for the judicial probe instead of choosing a retired judge who's rumoured to be close to the CPI(M), had Todi been arrested for filing false complaints against Rizwanur, had the police registered a case on Rizwanur's unnatural death by now, had Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee unequivocally condemned the murky happenings instead of speaking in general terms ("nobody will be spared", "I'm looking into this" and similar inanities), we'd have been inclined to believe the state government.
The fact is, Kolkatans don't and expect nothing to come out of the CID and judicial probes.
Many have been clamouring for a CBI probe. After the good work it had done in unearthing evidence of the CPI(M) having hired professional killers at Nandigram and in the Tapasi Mullick case at Singur (where it arrested CPI(M) leaders for having ordered the killing of Tapasi for her role in the anti-land acquisition stir), we thought the CBI would be the right agency to handle the Rizwanur death case. Rizwanur's family has even approached the Calcutta High Court, praying for a CBI probe on the grounds that state agencies aren't impartial and unbiased and wouldn't bring out the truth in the case.
But now that it has emerged that CBI chief Vijay Shankar is a good friend of Prasun Mukherjee and the two had an unscheduled meeting in New Delhi on October 9, serious doubts have cropped up even over a CBI probe. Since Prasun Mukherjee's role is also under scrutiny and he has been criticised by all, including Jyoti Basu, a CBI probe would naturally have covered him as well. And how impartial the CBI sleuths would have been is in that case is anybody's guess.
There's no way Vijay Shankar could have not known about this whole case and the demand from Kolkatans for a CBI probe. He would have definitely known about the case before the Calcutta High Court and that the court could grant Rizwanur's mother's prayer for a probe by the central agency. Under such circumstances, when there are chances, howsoever slim they may be, of the bureau he heads being asked to probe the death of Rizwanur and the role of the Kolkata Police, including the Commissioner, it was unethical and improper on his part to have agreed to meet Prasun Mukherjee. It was also highly irregular and inappropriate on Mukherjee's part to have met the CBI chief, but we can't really expect a sense of propriety and conscientious behaviour from our present police commissioner.
So our only hope—that a CBI investigation would bring out the truth—has been shattered. Where does that leave us?
This is an idea that has come up from some quarters and I think it could be effective in shaming the ongoing probes and the government. A number of eminent people, including people who have held top posts in the police, have spoken out against the errant Kolkata Police officers and the manner in which the whole case is being handled. The services of all these persons can be used to conduct a citizen's probe.
We can have an investigative team comprising the likes of Nirupam Som, Tushar Talukdar (both former police chiefs), Amiya Samanta (former director of IB) and Upen Biswas (former Joint Director of CBI) who can go into all aspects of the case, call and examine independent witnesses, and submit a report to a jury made of persons like litterateurs Mahasweta Devi and Sunil Gangopadhyay, former Chief Minister and barrister Siddhartha Shankar Ray, human rights activist Sujato Bhadra, jurists and even some lay persons. The jury can then pass a verdict.
Yes, the verdict will have no legal sanction or standing and will not be binding on anyone, least of all the state government. But the sheer moral force of this exercise will be hard to ignore. The pressure that the state government is under right now, thanks to continuing protests by Kolkata's citizenry, will only increase manifold. And ultimately, the state government may just bow to pressure and come clean.
At the same time, we need to broadbase the citizens' protests. We should get people like Teesta Setalvad and Arundhati Roy involved, for that would ensure a lot of focus and attention from the national media and pitchfork this issue into the national stage. Simultaneously, we ought to get our friends, relatives and associates in the other cities, especially Delhi, to get involved in this and stage candlelight protests there.
A single such candlelight protest in front of India Gate one evening would get the 'Justice for Rizwanur' movement far more publicity (at the national level) than what it has been able to garner till now. I'm sure these are not difficult tasks. So let us do it. Also, we need to intensify the sms and blog campaigns and get more people to sign the online petition.
The silence and total inaction of Rizwanur's widow is both mysterious and discomfiting. She displayed a lot of courage in falling in love with a person from another faith and from a poor family and in leaving her own life of luxury to stay with him at a small tenement at Tiljala Road in Park Circus area. After she left her Salt Lake home for her in-laws at Tiljala, her father tried for 12 hours at a stretch to cajole her into leaving Tiljala. But she held her ground.
Ultimately, when senior police officers threatened to arrest her husband on a false case if she didn't return to her parents (for only a week, they assured her), and when she was told her father was bedridden, she went back to her parents, albeit temporarily. She didn't know this break from Rizwanur would become a permanent one.
But ever since she got to know of her husband's death, she has remained silent. She never visited her grieving in-laws, she never issued any statement to share their pain and sorrow and she has hardly behaved like a person in mourning. Does this mean she has been totally brainwashed by her parents and relatives? Or is it that she has suddenly become worldly-wise and realised that since her husband is no more, she'd rather choose the luxuries of life at her parent's place to the despair and plain living at her in-laws?
Even if she has finally chosen to stay back with her parents, would a simple, graceful gesture like visiting her mother-in-law Kishwar Jahan (with whom Priyanka spent more than a week) and even spending a night at her dead husband's house to partake in the mourning there
be too much to expect of her? Initially, Priyanka came across as a bold, decent and honest human being. It would be sad if we were to change our opinion of this lady.
Despite advice and requests from many within his government and without, including his predecessor Jyoti Basu, Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee continues to take the side of the Kolkata Police and refuses to take any action against the officers who interfered in the marriage of the couple and forced them to separate. Because, contrary to what he may try to project, Buddhadeb comes across as a petty, stubborn, power-hungry and headstrong person who has little time and patience for values and concepts like fair play and transparency.
To him, any demand to remove his blue-eyed boy Prasun Mukherjee, whom he backed for the Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) president's post, amounts to a direct challenge to his own authority. And being essentially an autocrat (like all good commies are), Buddhadeb feels he must resist such demands and pressures. He will, of course, take refuge in falsehoods and doublespeak to obfuscate issues.
A lot of media persons and TV news anchors made a big deal of the grim visage of the Chief Minister when he announced the 'judicial probe'. It is more likely that Buddhadeb was grim-faced because he was angry about all the hue and cry over the Rizwanur case and the pressure that has been mounting on him.
And look at the subterfuge he indulged in—instead of writing to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court or the Calcutta High Court to name a sitting or retired judge to conduct the probe, Buddhadeb violated all established norms to name a retired judge who'll head the inquiry. Reports appearing in various local newspapers suggest that this retired Judge, Aloke Chakrabarti, is considered to be a favourite by the CPI(M). He, by the way, was the one to set aside a widely-acclaimed ruling by a colleague, Justice Amitava Lala (the Judge Biman Bose railed and ranted against in a petty and offensive manner) banning rallies and processions on Kolkata's streets on weekdays.
Anyway, getting back to Buddhadeb, all his pronouncements, postures and expressions till date are in contrast to the image that he once sought to cultivate—of a caring, humane, tolerant, honest and efficient person. That mask has slipped so many times to expose the real Buddhadeb that this man may
well be considered to be a liability by his own party some time from now.
This is a significant point most people have overlooked. One newspaper had mentioned it in a chronology of events leading to Rizwanur's death, but it has got buried in the avalanche of other information. The day after she reached her parents' place at Salt Lake, Priyanka called Rizwanur and asked him about his friendship with another girl. Priyanka said her father wanted to know about the relationship between Rizwanur and this other girl. Rizwanur's friends and associates have told me that he was, at one time, "just friends" with this girl and had told Priyanka about her.
The point is, how did Ashok Todi get to know about this 'other girl'? Impeccable sources in Kolkata Police tell me that this information was passed on to Todi by one of the four police officers who got involved in the case. On the orders of a senior officer, some cops dug up Rizwanur's past and this bit of information surfaced. It was promptly passed on to Todi by the senior officer. Todi confronted his daughter with this with the intention of convincing her husband was a philanderer!
This proves, if any more proof was needed, that the police acted on Todi's behest and, in this case, as his private detectives. Shame on such cops! They ought to be dismissed from service immediately. Not that such a step would inconvenience them; they would find immediate employment in Todi's Rs 200 crore hosiery business. But Kolkata and Kolkata Police would be
rid of such criminals in uniform.
A week ago, on October 5, Jyoti Basu told mediapersons after a meeting of his party's state committee where this issue was discussed with Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee that two officers were being removed. Speculation was rife that it would be two officers of the Kolkata Police's Anti Rowdy Section—Assistant Commissioner Sukanti Chakraborty and Sub-Inspector Krishnendu Das—who would face the axe. But Buddhadeb refused to say anything, and so did senior officers of the home department. A week has passed, and no heads have rolled.
So why did Basu say that two officers were being removed? He couldn't have said that unilaterally. So did Buddhadeb tell the party he would remove the officers and later go back on his promise? If so, why? Has Buddhadeb become more powerful than his party? I'm told that when pressed to redeem his promise, Bhattacharjee reportedly told senior party colleagues: "Allow me to handle things my way or either remove me or allow me to resign". Is the
CPI(M) being a Frankenstein and creating a monster in Buddhadeb, one that can ultimately inflict a lot of harm on not only Bengal and its people but also the party? This, unfortunately, seems to be the case.
Testimonials posted by Rizwanur's classmates, friends, colleagues, associates, teachers and students on various websites and blogs make for heart-rending reading. What emerges from them is this young man born on June 30 three decades ago was an apolitical person and used to love cricket. His favourite books (as listed on his Orkut site) were God of Small Things and other contemporary Indian writings in English. He used to love everything from Kishore Kumar to Aerosmith and was a huge fan of Ram Gopal Varma. He was passionate about designing and advertising, as is evident from his membership of two Orkut communities—Prasoon Joshi Fans Club and Piyush Pandey Fans Club. His classmates at St Lawrence recall his academic brilliance and his love for computers.
The best tributes to Rizwanur have been posted by his students at Arena Multimedia, the computer education centre he taught graphics design at. These young boys and girls, it appears, really loved him for his sterling qualities of head and heart. They say they'll forever remember him for being loving, caring, going out of his way to help them, for his innovative teaching methods, for his wit and humour and for being, above all, an extremely honest, decent and good human being.
Rizwanur tried his best to win over his in-laws even though they had threatened him and got senior police officers to do the same. After Priyanka left for her parents' place, he designed what his colleagues say was a "fantastic" ad campaign for the Lux Cozi hosiery brand that the Todis own. He did so, colleagues at Arena told me, to win his in-laws' trust and their hearts and also to prove his worth. Rizwanur then wanted to send the matter to Ashok Todi and called him several times to tell him about it, but the heartless Todi didn't take his calls.
Boy Next Door
The outrage and outpour of anger in Kolkata over the Rizwanur case has been unprecedented. Even when 14 people were gunned down at Nandigram in March this year, there were protests, but not as widespread and sustained as this time. Why? The answer, I feel, lies in the fact that Rizwanur was like the boy next door who had come up in life through grit, intelligence, academic brilliance and had battled all odds. He was from a very poor family, but never allowed poverty become a hindrance to advancement; he gave private tuitions after his father passed away to fund his college education. He was simple, honest, loving, conscientious, hardworking and intelligent—qualities we all respect and hold dear.
Such a young man, in the prime of his life, having had to face such a lot of injustice due to humble origins from his rich and bullying father-in-law and having had to pay for falling in love with a rich girl with his life is something that fills us with indignation and blinding rage. We can all feel and understand what Rizwanur felt and what his family is feeling now. Kolkata has always been a city that accords primacy to humanitarian values and detests the likes of Todi. That explains the widespread and sustained protests. And we should keep it up. Only then can we ensure that this city is freed of police oppression and repression.
There's some heartening news from another front. The 'Lux Cozi' brand is facing boycott in many wholesale and retail markets of the city. It seems customers are refusing this brand of hosiery, and many retailers are also refusing to lift stocks of this brand. Good, hit it where it hurts, I say. A total and sustained boycott would bring the Todis to their knees. A Bengali filmstar has already said he wouldn't renew his contract for endorsing this brand. Everyone ought to boycott Lux Cozi. And yes, Todi should be arrested immediately under Section 182 IPC (providing false information with intent to cause a public servant to use his lawful powers to cause injury to another person) and Sec 211 IPC (filing false charge of offence) for the false complaints (of abduction and wrongful confinement of Priyanka) that he had filed against Rizwanur. His arrest, coupled with huge losses that a public boycott of his products will result in, will definitely serve as a lesson to all rogues in our society.
The Cricket Connection
This is no longer a gentleman's game, as we all know. But the game has become a sinister link between different players in the murky case. Todi, as has been mentioned, was arrested by Kolkata Police in the mid-1990s on cricket betting charges. He was alleged to be the kingpin of the betting racket in this part of India. But he was released soon enough without any charges, and no prizes for guessing that a lot of money would have been given to the city police by him for this. This case needs to be resurrected and investigated. Anyway, it was after his arrest that Todi started getting close to the Kolkata Police. So cricket bonded Todi and the cops.
Prasun Mukherjee was propped by Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee in the CAB polls against incumbent president Jagmohan Dalmiya. Mukherjee was trounced by Dalmiya in the first attempt and Bhattacharjee went on to call that a "victory of evil over good". Good as in Prasun Mukherjee? Hah! Public works minister Kshiti Goswami's has alleged that Todi funded Prasun Mukherjee's bid. While that needs immediate investigation, people already believe Goswami's charges to be true.
And then, it has emerged that Sourav Ganguly's elder brother Snehasish, an office-bearer at the CAB, who once played the game, is a business associate of Todi.