Fiza: Triumph of the Patriarch
by Sandhya Jain on 23 Mar 2009 1 Comment

Love, or infatuation, clearly took a beating when sacked Haryana deputy chief minister Chander Mohan (re-christened Chand Mohammad after a hasty conversion to Islam last November) walked out of paradise, leaving Anuradha Bali (alias Fiza) helpless with rage.

There can be little doubt, as Fiza alleged, that former Haryana chief minister Bhajan Lal engineered this coup. The conduit was doubtless Chand’s elder brother, Kuldeep Bishnoi, a courageous MP who was the first to revolt against the UPA’s policy of gifting gigantic land-banks to industrialists, called Special Economic Zones (SEZ). Differences with Congress president Sonia Gandhi over the issue of turning rich agricultural land to industrial wasteland led to a parting of ways; Bishnoi is now set to try his luck with a new party in the forthcoming elections.

For old patriarch Bhajan Lal, who eventually joined Kuldeep to salvage the political honour of the clan, Chand’s escapade could hardly have been more ill-timed. But the old man quickly took the bit between his teeth, called a public rally with his wife by his side, and publicly disowned Chand and his conversion to Islam in order to conduct a second marriage. Lal declared that the family was standing by first wife Seema and her two children (one son died last year), who would receive Chand’s share of the family estate.

Plan B

Having thus done the honourable thing by his daughter-in-law and grandchildren, the Patriarch remained unreconciled to Chand’s eclipse from his personal and political life, and obviously implemented ‘Plan B’ with ruthless efficiency. His task was facilitated by the fact that hardly anyone expected events to unfold the way they did – Seema was expected to fade into oblivion; Chand to live ‘happily ever after’ with Fiza.

Bhajan Lal, however, was made of sterner stuff. It was conveyed to Chand that power and politics come before love/infatuation, and somewhere this struck a chord in the aging young man for whom politics is the family business.

Barely two months of ‘eternal’ love and it was time to move on… The first public intimation of trouble came when Chand Mohammad mysteriously disappeared from the couple’s home on 28 January, leaving Fiza bemused and clueless. On 1 February, the former minister informed the media that he loved his wife Seema and children, and was ‘missing’ them. It was obviously a gesture to the Old Man, and we need not be surprised if Chand gets a ticket to contest the Lok Sabha elections from his brother’s party.

As Fiza attempted, but later denied, suicide, Chand merely said he respected her! He refused to even once visit the former Addl. Advocate General, now his “second wife.”

Back to the pavilion

Bhajan Lal’s family saga is probably the only known case of an interloper being made to eat crow – publicly at that. Anuradha first claimed Chand had been kidnapped, but he surfaced with his ‘missing first wife and kids’ rebuttal, and her overdose of sleeping pills drew only indifferent contempt.

She attempted to embarrass him back to her side by leaking his love letters and SMS’ to the media, and threatening to fix ‘anybody’ who tried to “spoil my new love story.”

But it was already over.

Islam: controversial conversion

Chander Mohan’s was not the first conversion of convenience to Islam. But it was certainly the one that backfired publicly, because Chander converted to Islam only to marry Anuradha as there was no way Bhajan Lal would allow Seema to give him a divorce, presuming that Seema would be willing to break her marriage for his whims.

After some sedate Muslims blasted this conversion as bringing a bad name to Islam, Deoband had stepped in to designate the conversion as legal and proper in all respects.

The ulema were therefore terribly embarrassed at the turn of events, which brought the whole process of conversion of Hindus to monotheistic faiths into the limelight.

They beat a hasty retreat by announcing that if Chand Mohammad renounced Islam and went back to his natal Hindu faith, the marriage with Fiza would be deemed to be annulled and no other formality would be required. Fiza would be free to marry again, and Chand would become Chander Mohan again.

What? No charges of apostasy, no fatwa, no reprisals?

The maulvis would surely have been relieved when Chand called from London to utter the triple talaq, and also sent an SMS to make doubly sure that Fiza got the message – that love had gone, and the marriage with it.

Former Minority Commission chairman Tahir Mahmood faulted the divorce procedure, as he had once faulted the conversion and marriage during an extant first marriage, but he was ignored. Deoband’s Dar ul Uloom declared it “legal” under Muslim law. Fiza, the seminary said, was free to marry another man if she wanted to, after the three-month Iddat period.

Hell hath no fury

The legendary fury of a woman scorned was of no avail. An enraged Fiza filed a complaint with the Mohali police, accusing Chand of “rape, hurting religious sentiments, cheating, defamation and criminal intimidation.” She also sent copies to the National Women Commission, Punjab State Human Rights Commission and Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda.

Mohali Senior Superintendent of Police, Jatinder Singh Aulakh, ordered an inquiry, which eventually exonerated the politician. It was followed by a swift divorce from Chand.

The future – an Oscar?

It seems Anuradha Bali may take her revenge via the movies. She has reportedly received an offer from a Canadian firm, India Pacific Media and Movies Inc, for the rights to her true life story – or at least her side of it – doubtless embellished into a Hollywood-compatible curry, a la the passable Q&A which metamorphosed into Slumdog Millionaire.

Press reports suggest she had been offered a whopping Canadian $5 million for the movie rights, and that the movie is proposed to be completed and released before the forthcoming Lok Sabha polls – quick work if it happens.

The fallout

Certainly one inevitable fallout will be greater caution by Muslim clergy in approving conversions accompanied by immediate marriage – with no notice to the natal families on either side about what is being intended.

As marriage is a social institution and conversion impacts the family and larger social group to which the individual belongs, neither can legitimately be conducted in secret, nor should they be. This aspect will have to be understood by one and all.

The legal and moral confusion surrounding such marriages of convenience will have to be resolved – for women in all communities.

For Hindus, the Supreme Court in the 1995 Sarla Mudgal case held any second marriage solemnised after conversion while the first marriage was existent to be void. For Muslims, many Islamic countries have laws favouring single marriages. Christianity is consistent in support of monogamous unions.

This may therefore be the right time for all communities to discuss the much-desired uniform civil code. Enhancing the stability of the marital home cannot be to the detriment of any community.

The author is Editor,

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