Will Rajneesh have to become a Rizwanur to get justice in India?

published on October 16, 2009

When silence tells a story
Balbir K Punj
The Pioneer
October 16, 2009

He and his kith and kin were hounded for over a month. No human rights organisation came to their defence. On the fateful night of September 29, the lawless arm of the law finally caught up with him. He was whisked away from Jammu to Srinagar. A week later — on October 6 — his body was found hanging in the Ram Munshi Bagh police station in Srinagar. The police said it was suicide. Just five weeks after their marriage, his bride became a widow.

Rajneesh Sharma’s only crime was that he was a Hindu from Jammu who had fallen in love with a Muslim woman from the Valley. He did not convert to Islam. Instead, the girl, Amina Yousaf, adopted Hinduism and took the name Aanchal Sharma after marriage. Her father, Mohammad Yousaf, a Sub-Inspector in the Sales Tax Vigilance Department in Srinagar, could not reconcile himself with this. At his instance, the helpful State police and the pliable, communalised administration came down heavily on Rajneesh and his family.

“My father, who works with the Vigilance Department of the State Government, knows how to arm-twist the law. He must have bribed the policemen to kill my husband,” Aanchal told the media in Jammu. “They brutally tortured my husband and killed him in cold blood,” she added. While the local media covered this macabre tragedy in detail, the national dailies, with the exception of The Pioneer, almost blacked it out.

The torture marks on Rajneesh’s body, seen by scores of people on its arrival in Jammu exposed the brutality the policemen practised. There were cigarette burn marks all over. His nails had been pulled out. Other evidence of torture suggests that he was given the option of giving up either the woman he loved or his faith. The courage Rajneesh showed in the face of such torture — which has been confirmed by post-mortem as well — needs to be commended.

True, custodial deaths are not rare in this country. But in Rajneesh’s case there is a communal angle to it. It is ironical that the same Kashmir Valley witnessed protests over the murder of tow Muslim women in Shopian. But the horrific custodial death of a Hindu man was treated with indifference. There have been numerous instances of Muslim men marrying Hindu women after converting them to Islam. Such marriages are happening all over the country. But the police are never called to intervene and the conversion to Islam is welcomed. Yet, if anyone converts the other way, all hell breaks loose.

The question here is why don’t the self-styled liberals in the country stand up and condemn the Muslim community for its allergy to someone from their own community converting to another faith although it welcomes conversions to Islam.

There are several instances of individual families and communities of all description in the country seeking to undo inter-community marriages and even punish couples involved in them. In such cases civil society and the police are supposed to protect the couples. Where individuals or communities inflict punishment on these couples, the police are supposed to investigate the deaths and prosecute the perpetrators. Civil society is expected to stand by the victims. So why is civil society silent on Rajneesh’s case?

Srinagar bursts into flames whenever someone is killed in the crossfire between security personnel and terrorists. But there have been no protests over Rajneesh’s death in Srinagar. The Omar Abdullah Government has done nothing to act against the murderers. As a mere formality, two low-ranking policemen have been placed under suspension and orders have been issued for a magisterial inquiry into the custodial death.

There is something sinister behind this apathy. It would appear that someone is trying to give the message that Jammu & Kashmir is ‘autonomous’ or in someway out of the orbit of Indian law. As the militants and the separatists push their agenda, the Hindus of Jammu are being treated as second class citizens who cannot even depend on the protection of the law. In many Islamic countries this kind of a situation is normal.

Perhaps Rajneesh’s murder is not even a crime in the eyes of the authorities in Jammu & Kashmir. Otherwise, the ‘sensitive’ majority community would have definitely protested against the actions of the police in Srinagar. The blame for this state of affairs does not lie with a particular community as such or the individuals therein. The blame lies with the system that keeps the community insular and builds high walls to protect it from the winds of change, and the ‘secularists’ who conveniently look the other way when such incidents occur.

Let us contrast the indifference towards Rajneesh’s death case with how civil society reacted in Kolkata when an influential and rich Hindu, Ashok Todi, was accused of getting the police to help him deal with a Muslim man, Rizwanur Rahman, who dared to marry his daughter. The people of Kolkata, irrespective of their religion, rose in protest. Some of India’s greatest intellectuals went and forced the Government to order an impartial probe which led to the prosecution of both Todi and the police officers who colluded with him.

Contrast Kolkata’s reaction with the deafening silence in Srinagar and Delhi over Rajneesh’s custodial death. The victim is from Jammu & Kashmir’s minority community. Will Rajneesh have to become a Rizwanur to get justice in India?

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