Why is Rajneesh different from Rizwan in India?

Although custodial deaths in India are not rare, there seems to be a communal angle to this one.

He and his family were hounded like mad dogs for over a month. And they had no human rights. On the night of September 28-29, the lawless arm of the law finally caught up with him. From Jammu, he was whisked away to Srinagar. A week later (on October 6) his body was found hanging in the Ram Munshi Bagh police station of Srinagar. The police said it was suicide. In five weeks, the bridegroom was a mangled corpse and his bride a widow.

His crime? A Hindu from Jammu, Rajneesh Sharma, 35, had fallen in love with a girl from the Valley. He did not convert to Islam; instead the girl changed to Anchal Sharma after marriage, from Ameena Yousaf. Her father, Mohammad Yousaf, a sub-inspector in the sales tax vigilance department in Srinagar and his community could not reconcile themselves to it. At his instance, the helpful state police and pliable administration came down heavily on the family of Rajneesh.

“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”, Anchal told the media in Jammu. “They tortured my husband and killed him in cold blood,” she said. While the local media covered this macabre drama in detail, the national dailies, with the exception of Pioneer, have almost blacked it out.

The torture marks on Rajneesh’s body were seen by scores of people on arrival in Jammu. There were burn marks, caused by cigarette butts. The nails were pulled out and there was other evidence of brutal treatment — proving that he was given an option either to give up the girl or give up his faith. Rajneesh needs to be commended in the face of such step-by-step torture. The torture has been confirmed by the post-mortem as well.

True, custodial deaths are not rare in the country. But there is a communal angle added to this one, and the fact that the same Valley that went up in flames over the Shopian deaths of two Muslim girls remained silent when on October 6 the custodial death of a Hindu boy was discovered in Srinagar.

There have been numerous instances of Muslim boys marrying Hindu girls after converting them to Islam. Such instances are happening all over the country, including in Kashmir. But police are not called to intervene and the conversion to Islam is welcomed. Yet, let anyone convert the other way, hell breaks loose.

The question is, why don’t the liberals in the country stand up and seek to dissuade the Muslim community from such conversion when they welcome the one towards them?

There are several instances of individual families and communities of all description in the country seeking to undo inter-communal marriages and even punishing some couples involved in them. In such cases civil society and police normally are supposed to protect the endangered couple. Where the individuals or communities inflict any punishment on these couples, the police are supposed to investigate the deaths and prosecute the perpetrators of the crime. Civil society is expected to stand by the victims. Why is civil society silent in this case?

In Srinagar, the police themselves are accused of killing the husband. Often, Srinagar goes up in flames over a boy being killed in cross fires or something like that. In this case, Srinagar remained silent and the government of Omar Abdullah has not acted despite the victim’s family taking up the issue. True, two lower level policemen have been placed under suspension and orders issued for a magisterial inquiry. Why have they not been arrested so far?

Apparently someone is giving the message down the line that in a J&K that is ‘autonomous’ or in some way out of the orbit of Indian law, as the militants and separatists there push their agenda, Hindus of Jammu are second-rate citizens who will be denied the protection of common law. In many Islamic majority countries it is already so.

So perhaps it is not a crime in the eyes of Kashmir’s otherwise very sensitive majority community if the Srinagar police arrest a Hindu boy who dared to love a Muslim girl and marry her after converting her to his religion, torture him and then kill him in cold blood. The blame for this double standard does not lie on the community or the individuals therein. Blame the system that keeps the community insular and builds high walls against the winds of change, and the secularists who look the other way when such incidents take place.

Let us recall the contrast between how civil society reacted in Kolkata when an influential and rich Hindu parent Ashok Todi was accused of getting police help to eliminate a Muslim boy Rizwan who dared to marry his daughter. Civil society in Kolkata, irrespective of religion, rose in protest against police inaction despite the alleged support the rich Hindu had from the political establishment.

Some of India’s greatest intellectuals went hammer and tongs against this injustice and finally succeeded in getting an impartial probe and prosecuting both the Hindu parent and the police officers of high rank who colluded with him. The Muslim victim in this case was an ordinary graphic designer.

Contrast this reaction with the deafening silence in Srinagar and Delhi. The victim is from J&K’s minority. Will Rajneesh have to become a Rizwan to get justice in India?


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The New Indian Express