What Rinku Sachdeva's Death Tells Us About Ourselves
I had spent countless episodes cheering the efforts of Rama's army taking on Ravana and his aides in Ramanand Sagar's interpretation of the epic. And on one Sunday morning at age seven I watched, in shock, angry flames dancing in Sita's sorrowful eyes. And then she emerged, unharmed, passing with flying colors the "Agni Pariksha" (The Fire Test). Her crime? She had been kidnapped by Ravana and spent years in captivity.
Of course her character was under scrutiny having spent time with another man. The Indian audience cheered enthusiastically as the woman, a perennial epitome of sacrifice, once again put the insecurities of a man and a shallow society to rest by stepping into a fire. He was touted as the noble king and she the redeemed goddess. That she was then banished and sent away to the forest, pregnant and weary with wifely virtue is another story.
Then there was the beautiful and proud Ahilya, who through no fault of her own, was turned to stone by her furious husband, Sage Gautam, because the lecherous Lord Indra tricked her into bed. How sagely of him. The Weaver's Wife in Panchatantra had her nose cut off because she didn't heed her husband's call and he considered that a sign of her unfaithfulness.
The Manu Smriti dictated that a woman guilty of infidelity be torn to pieces by dogs. Apparently, the forgiveness and nonviolence preached in Hinduism is not for the women.
And the men? Well, the Gods had a million wives and pranced around with multiple Goddesses. They were the ones who as pious sages blessed the barren women with child and a countless hapless damsels with the grace of their espousal. In short, our mythology presents rationale for the age-old dictum that women equal sacrifice and virtue and men equal power and ego.
Come 2006 and Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna gave us a half-hearted, unexplained peek into infidelity and the song sprinkled a love story that sugar coated breakdown of matrimony. While the overtly reticent female protagonist is consumed with guilt at cheating on her loving husband, the glorious Khan has his pitiful limp and a career driven, neglecting wife to justify his attempt at adultery. Oh and I almost forgot, the female protagonist's major handicap throughout the film is her alleged and untested barrenness. The sad, withdrawn barren heroine and the attention seeking man neglected by his busy, working wife. Was it progressive? No. Was it realistic? In some ways, in spite of being a Karan Johar film, it actually was! Why? Because that is how Indian society in general views adultery and infidelity.
If a man cheats, he was neglected. If a woman cheats, she must've been depressed beyond belief. Result: extra marital affair. The box office success of Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna (Never Say Goodbye) quite literally laid out how our society has never bid farewell to the stereotypical equations in an Indian marriage.
But films, mythology and scriptures aside, this mentality has reared an uglier head with the recent Rinku Sachdeva murder.
Yes, I will only refer to it as a murder and not a suicide because I have no sympathy for an individual who held a pillow over the struggling, gasping face of a woman he once loved simply because he believed she was cheating and then hung himself to escape consequences. I went through comments on Deepti Lamba's eloquent and touching Rinku Sachdeva Dies Again Online and in the public profiles of the doomed couple.
Honestly I was even more shocked than I was at the murder itself upon seeing how many Indian men stepped forward to justify an unauthorized death penalty as a punishment for alleged adultery. They cited the case of Kiranjit Ahluwalia who after suffering 10 years of physical and emotional abuse, raising two sons who witnessed these harrowing episodes, set her husband's feet on fire "to show him how much it hurt."
Let us evaluate how much our reactionary crowd of moral police really knows about the Alhuwalia case. Let us try her again.
Did she do jail time? Yes. Was she evaluated by a psychiatric panel to determine if she suffered from any mental ailment at the time of committing the act? Yes. Multiple times. Was her abuse proven? Yes. Countless interviews with relatives, friends and her young sons demonstrated that she had endured years of abuse.
Most importantly, the guilt was first evaluated in a court of law. Contrary to popular belief, Kiranjit Alhuwalia was not just immediately found innocent but instead her case was changed from murder to manslaughter by reason of provocation. It only so happened that by the time this verdict came about she had already finished the required sentence for the crime. Those of you who have gathered their understanding of this case by watching the film Provoked, I suspect were likely so distracted by the weeping Ms.Rai that legal implications faded into the background.
How is this even comparable to the scenario in the Sachdeva murder?
The man did not murder his wife in self-defense or in response to proven abuse but on mere suspicion of infidelity. News reports document his own friends' narrations of instances of his suspicion, times when he recorded her conversations with colleagues insisting they were romantic in nature.
Rinku's public profile on Orkut shows pictures of her with her husband while his profile shows only his. A comment by his friend hints that his wife wasn't the only one Amit had a habit of spying on. A quick look at their scrapbooks and the mentality of a majority of Indians is revealed. There are people, young men even, leaving comments on the Orkut profiles of the two dead individuals and those truly inspire goosebumps. Some praise Amit as the hero who killed a cheating wife and taught all adulterous women a lesson. Some declare how she deserved it because of a "suspected affair." Some even went so far as to conclude that "if he murdered her surely she must've been cheating."
The comments in the murder victim's scrapbook are even more upsetting. A dead woman's character is ruthlessly tarnished by people who do not even know her. She has been pronounced guilty of adultery by people who have assumed that she was murdered for a cause.
Unfortunately, under the surface of his actions, Amit Buddhiraja leaves symptoms of why the marriage may have gone awry.
Insecurities, suspicion, lack of communication, trust and compatibility. Conspicuous among all these usual suspects, is his callous murder technique which also leads one to speculate if his underlying insensitivity may have driven the rift in the marriage and found fatal culmination in Rinku's helpless gasps under the pillow.
While no court of law can ever try either Rinku or Amit, the people who expose their mentality through their reactions and comments have demonstrated on the online world how a majority of Indians perceive marriage, relationships and women in general.
Their lack of respect for human rights, human life and their zeal in pronouncing people guilty based on conjecture is being revealed daily. The Rinku Sachdeva case is holding a mirror to the many men who in spite of qualifications and social status are uncomfortable with women's changing roles, their evolving interactions, their growing confidence in today's world where gender equality is gnawing at the roots of well-established and important socio-cultural constructs such as marriage.
The cliched claims of "Loose woman!" are rampant from those who don't feel that evidence of her alleged affair is even necessary. Even if evidence were to be found, would it justify murder? People abandon the basics of humanity to proclaim that one merely suspected with the loss of ethic is deemed punishable by a death sentence without receiving a fair trial.
So while it is not uncommon to hear of a jealous and suspicious man doing the unthinkable, we now have people mimicking the fanatical Taliban school of thought where men find justifications for why a woman's stoning was a well-deserved and fitting punishment for alleged adultery. Among us are people who through their opinions reveal their potential to kill another human being and find it in their hearts to rationalize their actions. There cannot be a bigger death of humanity. What have we come to?
And as an Indian woman I am disappointed, as always, but not surprised. I still feel like the seven-year-old who shuddered as the blameless Sita stepped into a fire without a trial. I still feel like the little girl who wondered why Sita didn't fight hard enough instead of sinking into the depths of the earth. Unlike Rinku Sachdeva, she did have a choice.
What Rinku Sachdeva's Death Tells Us About Ourselves
- » Published on March 27, 2008
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Author: Aditi Nadkarni
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