A tale of forbidden love that ended in a man’s violent death has sparked rioting in Calcutta and led to the removal of the city’s police chief.
The fate of Rizwanur Rahman has exposed the religious and class divisions in modern India.
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Investigators are now trying to determine whether Mr Rahman, 30, who was discovered in September lying dead on a city railway track with a head wound, committed suicide or was murdered.
Their doomed relationship began after Miss Todi began attending the bookish Mr Rahman’s computer classes at a private academy.
They secretly married in August and she left her family’s lavish suburban villa for his cramped apartment in a poor Muslim area of Calcutta.
In response, her father, Ashok Todi, a prominent businessman, went to Mr Rahman’s house with relatives. There, he dropped to his knees and clutched his daughter’s feet, begging her to save him from the “humiliation”, saying: “I cannot take a Muslim son-in-law”.
The young couple wrote to the city’s police force, seeking protection. “Some anti-socials are coming to our place and threatening us with dire consequences if we continue to stay together,” their letter said.
Senior officers, however, sided with Mr Todi, and even warned Mr Rahman that he would be charged with kidnap unless he relinquished his wife.
On September 8, Miss Todi visited her father in the belief that he was ill. Instead, her mobile phone was confiscated and she was taken hundreds of miles away to southern India.
She managed to call her husband and begged him to wait “months or years” for her. “Yes I will wait for you for ever,” he replied. She never saw him again.
Mr Rahman’s death just a fortnight later – and the subsequent actions of the police – shocked Calcutta, a city that prides itself on its secular, liberal outlook.
Students held candle-lit vigils for three weeks outside his former college, the prestigious St Xavier’s where he studied Byron and Thackeray.
When rumours circulated in the city that Mr Rahman’s body had been removed from the morgue as part of an attempt to cover up his death, it sparked rioting in which cars and buses were stoned, a police car was set alight and two senior officers were injured.
Armed police eventually restored calm.
In the aftermath, the Calcutta police commissioner, Prasun Mukherjee, sided with conservatives, suggesting that it was his force’s job to help Mr Todi lure his daughter back.
“After taking care of the daughter for 23 years, if the family finds one morning that she has left them to start a new life with an unknown youth, parents cannot accept it,” Mr Mukherjee said.
His comments caused further public outcry and the city’s authorities have now removed the police commissioner and four other senior officers from their posts.
No arrests have been made following Mr Rahman’s death but the country’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is now understood to be inclining towards a verdict of “suicide with abetment”, suggesting that they believe he may have been pressed to kill himself.
Such a ruling could open the way for a prosecution, with Indian law providing for prison terms of up to 10 years.
That penalty is most commonly imposed in cases of “dowry death”, when a wife is hounded to the point of suicide by her husband’s family for not producing an adequate dowry.
Mr Rahman’s mother, however, does not believe that will go far enough. “I am his mother and my heart says that he was murdered,” she said in a statement.
His brother, Rukbanur, is equally sceptical: “Whatever the CBI says we have to accept, but it is very, very unlikely that my brother would have committed suicide.
“He just wanted to marry and settle down with the person he loved, but he was not given the chance.”
Meanwhile, the dead man’s widow told The Calcutta Telegraph, “I have no idea how my husband died,” adding that she did not believe her family had been involved.
“I do not even want to think what might have happened on that dreadful day. I cannot think of anything. Life has come to a standstill.
“Looking back, I made a mistake by not getting my family to meet Rizwanur and get to know him better before the marriage.
“We knew what we had to face, but I was sure that we could persuade them to accept our marriage.”
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