A Victim of Political Brutality: Tragic Tale of a Young Bangladeshi Mother in India
Published on February 13, 2007
Lipi Mizhanur Sheikh's death in Mumbai only made it to the inner pages of an afternoon newspaper, Mid Day. It is a tribute to the reporters and editor at Mid Day that her death was even mentioned. The coroner's report on the cause of death said that she had died of Peritonitis, a condition for which she had been operated in August, but police personnel, speaking on the condition of anonymity told the newspaper that she had committed suicide. She was 28 years old, a mother of two children, 10 year old Lizma and 6 year old Parvez, and the wife of Mizhanur Sheikh, a man about whom nothing has been recorded. She worked as a "bar dancer," an Indian euphemism for a stripper. She was a Bangladeshi "illegal" resident in India along with her family. Every one of the family was in prison. The policemen/women who spoke to Mid Day told the newspaper that she had committed suicide because she had been kept away from her family. The children were at reformatory schools in Karjat and Bhiwandi and her husband's location was not even talked about.
Talk about a sad life and death – a more gifted writer than I could weave a story that would bring tears to the eyes of everyone who read about Lipi. A poor woman, forced to leave her country with her family to work in a far off land where the language and people were alien to her. Her husband might not have found a job that could feed them and their children, presumably he was semi literate. This good looking young woman had to make the daily sacrifice of stripping at bars in India's wealthiest city, a place where real estate costs as much as it does in Tokyo, London or New York. One could imagine her husband putting the children to bed every night telling them some concocted story about where their mother was. One could imagine her emotions as she stripped to the music playing in bars and clients fondled her body, pushed money into her undergarments and made lewd comments as she danced before them. Did she think about her children through this daily torture? Did she bear this daily indignity so that, in a strange land, they would get to eat? One wonders what dreams she had through this humiliating existence. One could imagine her husband's feelings of helplessness every night through this ordeal. Lying on the floor in a slum beside the children, trying hard to rid his mind of the thought of what his wife was going through, waiting, with an aching pain in his heart for the show to end so that she could return home. Longing to comfort her and confront his own helplessness, the reason why he was forced to let a beautiful young woman suffer through such an existence.
And the children. What did their classmates in school say to them? Everyone knows how hurtful some of the remarks that children can make, especially when they repeat something that they have overheard from their elders. "Your mother takes her clothes off and dances before strange men." "Your mother is a whore." "You are bastards and your mother is a whore." And yet, through all of this, Lipi, Mizhanur and their children had a family. She loved her children so much that when she lost hope of ever seeing them, she killed herself. She could bear daily indignity because she was a mother. She would do anything to feed her children. She may have hoped that the daily sacrifices that she made would ensure that when Lizma and Parvez grew up, they would have a better future. That some day, she would see her children do well and that the torture of her young years would be just a memory. None of this happened.
Lipi, her family and 50 other Bangladeshi refugees living in Mumbai were picked up by the police on charges of living in India illegally. Indian Members of Parliament, goaded on by some sections of the Indian media, had been on a witch hunt for some years, screaming about potential terrorists living in India, preparing to kill Indians and destroy the Indian Republic. There were loud demands on a nearly daily basis asking for what one politician now deceased called, "an enemy in our own house," to be arrested and expelled. And, for a while, the politicians of India's ruling Congress Party who also rule Maharashtra State, went on a morality trip and banned all strip joints. That move met with much resistance as many poor women were forced to march in public to beg for this decision to be reconsidered.
Almost 100% of India's strippers are sole breadwinners for their family. Thousands of women suffer like Lipi did every single day, voluntarily, so that they and their families would not starve to death. It was at this time, that the arrest took place. In a system that reminds one of the brutalities of the Nazi forced labour camps, the family were immediately separated and sent to different prisons. A mother who endured torture and humiliation every day so that she could feed her children, was given the ultimate torture of being separated from them with no contact or hope of seeing them again.
One can imagine the shattering of Lipi's dreams through this sadistic enforcement of India's laws. Every night, when she was a stripper, she must have wondered when her pain would end. When she would be able to spend time with her husband and children like any other mother, cooking for them, feeding them, and putting them to bed. Every moment of her life, she would have yearned for a day when she would be free from this torture. And, the children and husband for whom she bore this daily humiliation were taken away from her. As a stripper, she would still have got to see her children when she returned home in the early hours of the morning. Like every other mother, she would have seen them off to school before getting some sleep during the day, waking before they returned to cook and leave to be pawed and felt by strange men. Her children would have been her refuge, hugging their mother, lying with their heads on her lap when they saw her, their little hugs providing a healing touch to the invisible scars on her body from her occupational torture every night. With them taken away from her, and with no hope that she would ever see them again, she took her life.
The world remembers the tragic life of the little Jewish girl, Anne Frank, because of her diary. I do not know whether Lipi could read and write. If she could, and if she could articulate her feelings every day, it would take a particularly sadistic human being to remain unmoved by her suffering. And it was the sadistic Indian system that forced a young woman to take her own life. Yes, there are no gas chambers at the Adharwadi Prison where Lipi was kept. But, the system that took her life probably does not even need such a device. The system has a coroner's report – she died of a stomach disorder. They even treated her for it while she was in prison. India can wash its hands off her death and include her in the statistics of prisoners who died while they were provided with medical attention. The bars would continue to run, many more Lipis dancing there. Some Indian, others from Nepal, Bangladesh , Burma and who knows where? Somewhere, in two separate reformatory schools, perhaps, two little children cry every night. When their mother was away at night, they still looked forward to seeing her in the morning. I wonder if they even know that they would never, ever, see her again.
About the author: Mehul Kamdar, originally a native of Tamilnadu, India, is currently based in Chicago, USA. He is the co-moderator of Mukto-Mona forum and was the editor of The Modern Rationalist under late M D Gopalakrishnan and was associated with various rationalist movements during his stay in India. Mehul Kamdar can be reached at email@example.com