Print edition : June 04, 2010

IIMC alumni and friends of journalist Nirupama Pathak participating in a candlelight march demanding justice for her, at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi on May 8.-R.V. MOORTHY

IN a case of suspected honour killing, Nirupama Pathak, a 22-year-old journalist employed with a prominent English daily, was found dead on April 29 at her home in Jhumri Tilaiya, Koderma district, Jharkhand. Nirupama, a former student of the Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC), Delhi, was in a relationship with her colleague and fellow journalist, Priyabanshu Ranjan. Her parents were known to be opposed to the alliance as the boy was a non-Brahmin. The post-mortem done on Nirupama's body established that the death was from asphyxia as a result of smothering and confirmed ligature marks on her neck, pointing to strangulation with a rope. She was reportedly pregnant at the time of her death.

The police arrested Nirupama's mother, Subha Pathak, who was later sent to judicial custody. According to the Koderma police, the family had tried to mislead them by claiming that she had died of electrocution. The police were also informed of the death only in the evening though the incident had reportedly taken place in the morning.

Even as police investigations pointed to at least three persons being involved in Nirupama's death, only the mother was taken into custody. And, strangely, following a petition by Subha Pathak, the Chief Judicial Magistrate of Koderma directed the police to register first information reports (FIRs) against Priyabanshu under various non-bailable sections of the Indian Penal Code, including 376 (rape), 306 (abetment to suicide), 586 (criminal intimidation) and 420 (cheating).

Friends and colleagues of Nirupama and Priyabanshu, and faculty members of the IIMC, have gone on record as saying that the couple wanted to get married. They have produced cell phone messages to prove that nothing had gone wrong in the relationship and that Nirupama had not committed suicide as the family later alleged. Realising that the Jharkhand Police might not do justice to both the slain girl and her friend, they have demanded an inquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation into the case.

Referring to the court's intervention, the All India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA) said: The orders passed by the District Judge are unjust and totally unwarranted. Since the relationship between Nirupama and Priyabanshu was of a voluntary nature and occurred with the consent of Nirupama, the question of rape or cheating does not arise. There is no basis for initiating proceedings against Priyabanshu when there is clear evidence that Nirupama was killed in Jharkhand and her family is clearly involved. No investigation has been ordered or conducted by the magistrate before levelling these charges [against Priyabanshu]. The court should re-examine the matter and issue orders for the arrest of the culprits, who have committed a very barbaric and heinous crime.

As the tendency to assert democratic rights, including marriage out of choice, is on the rise, the backlash from individuals and communities is equally strong.

The pressure to amend existing marriage laws such as the Hindu Marriage Act is a symptom of this backlash and the deep desire to maintain the status quo at any cost. To dismiss this as an expression of mediaeval and feudal backwardness alone would be incorrect. It is the challenge posed to the existing unequal social order in the form of constitutional rights and the conferring of the right to property on women that seems to be at the root of the current disquiet.

T.K. Rajalakshmi
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor