This week, I attended a Bengali wedding reception after a long time – for the daughter of a very dear IIMB batchmate and a (highly prolific) fellow blogger. It was a well-arranged and joyful affair with a charming crowd and very nice. In an earlier life as a cop, I have had a few brushes with weddings in Bengal, some joyous and some not-so-joyous.
I was just a few days into my first assignment as Sub Divisional Police Officer (SDPO) when, one early morning, a very young boy and an equally young girl landed up in my residence-cum-office seeking help and solace. Turned out, cupid had struck and they had gone and quietly got married without the knowledge and against the wishes of their parents. Both the sets of parents (and, of course, the inevitable relatives) were furious and the girl’s parents had threatened them with severe punishment including and up to death. I rang up the local Police Station and asked them to look into it. Shortly thereafter, the agitated parents of the girl also landed up and were extremely adamant and extremely furious, in parts. I also referred them to the Police Station and set out for another Police Station area where a heinous crime had been committed the previous night.
After supervising the incident, raids and interrogation of the arrested accused persons in the latter case, I returned home fairly late in the evening. My house complex (residential office) was choc-a-bloc with two sets of crowds from the boy’s and the girl’s sides. They had parried and thrusted under the guidance, cajoling and persuasion of the Police Sub Inspector but could not reach any common ground. The boy’s parents were unhappy at the marriage having taken place without their knowledge but had nothing against the girl. The girl’s family were in a how-dare-they-elope mode even though they didn’t know much about the boy.
I asked them what they expected me to do, it being a civil, social matter. Both the sets of parents and relatives said, “Ja SDPO saheb bolben oita final.” [Whatever SDPO saheb says will be final.] I told them that as I wasn’t married, my knowledge about these matters was zilch so I won’t be able to advise or prescribe anything. I reiterated that it was a civil and social matter. However, both sides were adamant and threatened not to leave until I decided. Very reluctantly, I intervened and a “formal” marriage ceremony was held. In the end the couple had a blessed married life. My career practically started on the dubious note of jumping into something where I had no expertise or jurisdiction.
This posting was also in the same place where I had undergone district training. Usually, in a uniformed service, there is a lot of social distance between the ranks. However, since the junior officers had trained me, all of them treated me as family. One day, a Sub Inspector named Karmakar turned up with an emotional pitch when I was sitting in the Kotwali (town) Police Station. His brother was getting married (another love marriage) and he said he didn’t have much in terms of family and would be grateful if the other officers and I attended the marriage. I accompanied the Inspector of the Police Station and other Sub Inspectors to the “Bou bhaat” function. In Bengali marriages, this is an important part when the new bride feeds the guests in the groom’s place with food cooked by herself.
The occasion was bubbly, the feast was lavish, and the bride was very friendly, smart and chirpy. We didn’t see anyone from her side of the family but I didn’t inquire closely into it as it was a love marriage and it was better not to be inquisitive. We came back after thanking Karmakar who was thrilled at his close colleagues attending the wedding en masse.
A month or so later, the Inspector (Bodo babu) of the Police Station called me up one morning and told me there was a problem. There was a complaint of dowry death. This was a time when the country had become very agitated over a spate of dowry deaths and bride burning, continuously highlighted in the media. In response to the public hue and cry and in legislative wisdom, a new section 304 B was inserted in the Indian Penal Code and another section in the Indian Evidence Act whereby, in the case of any unnatural death of the bride within the first seven years of marriage, it was liable to be treated as a dowry death and the accused persons had to prove that they were innocent, not the other way around (presumed innocent until proven guilty) as obtained in other crimes. We were also instructed to give such cases priority and immediately effect arrests first and ask questions later. So, I told the Inspector he should go ahead with lodging the FIR and asked where the problem was. He told me that Karmakar’s sister-in-law whose Bou bhaat we had attended had committed suicide and her parents were at the Police Station demanding that an FIR be lodged. I still didn’t see the problem and asked him so what?” Then he revealed that they had collected a list of all the persons who had attended the Bou bhaat and had named them as accused. This, of course, included himself and me.
I dropped everything and rushed to the Police Station. I talked to the deceased bride’s parents who were actually very decent folk and friendly but absolutely determined about the FIR. In the polite discussions, I also asked them about their absence during the marriage. They said, “Ora toh CPM kore, aamra Congress kori; ei jonno gelam na.” [They support CPM, we support Congress; there was no question of our attending the marriage] That was my first inkling of how deeply party politics had gotten entrenched in every aspect of everyone’s life in the Bengal of those days. Anyway, the Inspector, with his exceptional persuasive skills, managed to convince them that we were innocent so they pared down the list of the accused to just the husband and the in-laws. Phew! If they had insisted on their original list of accused, I would have probably ended up arresting myself!
When I joined as Superintendent of Police (SP) of a district, my tenure started with an all-out clash with the local big leader of the ruling party. However, over time, he became very friendly (or perhaps gave up), stopped trying any intervention and used to drop in for occasional friendly chats completely unconcerned with administration or politics. During one such visit, I found him a little down in spirit so I asked him why. He said he was feeling sad. His daughter had just been married off. I was solicitous and offered a few general platitudes. Then, he burst out with, “Everything is fine. The boy is very decent, doing a handsome job, and is from a very good family. Everything is great. Except that we are CPM, they are RSP; I’m somehow just not able to reconcile myself to this…” This was at a time when CPM and RSP were constituent parties to the same Left Front government. I was stunned! And not a little amused.
My Police career which practically started with intervention into a marriage when I had no experience of the institution has drawn to a close. Since that incident, I have been married and now my kids are about to get married. I presume to have some domain knowledge about marriage now. However, no one asks me for advice or intervention in matters related to it any more. Not even my kids.
The writer is a senior IPS officer of West Bengal cadre. Views expressed are personal