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Lessons to be Learned from the Faulty Mentality of Upen Rajkhowa : An analysis by a filmmaker

Tarunabh Dutta

Tarunabh Dutta

Upen Rajkhowa

Disclaimer

This article draws upon “The Rajkhowa Murders” by Nilutpal Gohain as its primary source of reference to explore the tragic events surrounding Upen Rajkhowa and his family. It is important for readers to note that while the novel offers a detailed account, it is a work of fiction that provides a dramatized interpretation of real-life events. As such, the narrative may include artistic embellishments and fictionalized elements that serve the author’s storytelling purposes. Therefore, readers are encouraged to approach the story with a critical mind, recognizing that the portrayal of events and characters may not fully align with factual accuracies. The discussions and analyses presented in this article aim to explore broader societal themes inspired by the narrative, rather than asserting a historically accurate account of the events described in the novel.

Upen Rajkhowa

Introduction

The tragic case of Upen Rajkhowa, where a respected judge murdered his wife and three daughters, exposes deep-seated flaws in societal expectations and traditions. In this article, we explore the motives behind Rajkhowa’s actions and draw important lessons about how rigid traditions and patriarchal mindsets can lead to extreme consequences. Here’s a closer look at the crime case and its implications:

Who was Upen Rajkhowa?

Upen Rajkhowa was a well-respected judge in Assamese society. However, despite his high social standing, his family life held deep secrets. Rajkhowa was convicted of murdering his wife and three daughters.

The Victims

  • Putul Rajkhowa (wife)
  • Nirmali Rajkhowa (eldest daughter, also known as Linu)
  • Jonali Rajkhowa (second daughter, also known as Luna)
  • Rupali Rajkhowa (youngest daughter, also known as Bhantu)

The Upen Rajkhowa murder case is a chilling and unprecedented story that unfolded in the 1970s in Dhubri district, Assam, India. Upen Rajkhowa, who was a District and Sessions Judge, was found guilty of murdering his wife and three daughters. The case shocked the nation due to the nature of the crime and the high-profile status of the accused.

Upen Rajkhowa, nearing retirement, was living in government accommodation in Dhubri district. In 1970, his family, including his wife and three daughters, mysteriously disappeared. For some time, Rajkhowa evaded questions about their whereabouts, offering various excuses. The disappearance became a concern when Rajkhowa’s brother-in-law, a police officer, investigated after finding Rajkhowa staying in a hotel in Siliguri. Rajkhowa attempted suicide but was saved and subsequently hospitalized​​.

Upon further investigation, Rajkhowa confessed to the police that he had murdered his wife and all three daughters, burying their bodies within the premises of his government bungalow. The case proceeded to trial, and after a thorough judicial process, Rajkhowa was sentenced to death. His appeals to the High Court and Supreme Court were rejected, and even a mercy petition to the President was turned down. Rajkhowa was executed in 1976, marking a rare instance of a judge being sentenced to death and hanged for murder in India​​.

The killings and trial have been depicted in numerous books and films, emphasising the dark aspects of the crime and the legal process that ensued. The story also delves into the personal turmoil of the Rajkhowa family, revealing the strict upbringing of the daughters in an archaic household and the familial strains exacerbated by societal expectations and indiscretions​​.

The site of the crime, Rajkhowa’s official bungalow, known among locals as the “bhoot (ghost) bungalow,” adds a layer of eerie fascination to the case. It was later decided that the bungalow would be demolished to make way for a new judicial building, turning a new page on a location marked by such a grim history​​.

This case remains a significant part of India’s legal and criminal history, often cited as a shocking example of how personal and societal pressures can culminate in tragedy within even the most respected families in society.

Upen Rajkhowa
A fictional representation

Timeline Analysis

July 1969: Nirmali’s Melancholic State

  • Emotional Turmoil: Nirmali’s poetry provides a glimpse of her inner state. This suggests she felt lonely and disconnected due to her father’s absence. Upen Rajkhowa’s lack of emotional responsiveness toward his daughter might be an early precursor to the escalating tensions in the family.
  • Unexpressed Desires: The book might imply that Nirmali’s melancholy has hints of unfulfilled romantic longings, setting the stage for her later involvement with Bhupen Borah.

August 1969: Upen Rajkhowa’s Return & Discontent

  • Change in Dynamics: Upen Rajkhowa’s return disrupts the established dynamic in his household. He immediately senses unease in his family’s behavior. As someone fixated on control and tradition, any shift would likely feel deeply disconcerting.
  • Daughters’ Independence: His observation may stem from growing independence on his daughters’ part. In Upen Rajkhowa’s perspective, this ‘disturbance’ marks a deviation from expected norms and foreshadows further conflict.

February 1970: Nirmali’s Love Affair & Heightened Tensions

  • Turning Point: The tensions become explicit as Nirmali’s relationship with Bhupen is revealed. This event shatters Rajkhowa’s world order; his daughter is defying expectations.
  • Societal Violation: Bhupen Borah’s non-Brahmin social standing heightens the intensity and desperation of Upen Rajkhowa’s disapproval, indicating how tightly ingrained the caste system is within his mentality.

10th February 1970: The First Murders

  • Point of No Return: While the exact timeframe may contain some speculation, the murders of Rajkhowa’s wife and Nirmali are a drastic, unimaginable tragedy. It’s vital to analyze what leads a man, previously respected as a judge, to this point of complete moral breakdown.
  • Motivation: Did Upen Rajkhowa kill simply Nirmali out of uncontrolled anger, or were there pre-calculated moves in a disturbing attempt to “cleanse” the family of ‘dishonor’? This question lies at the heart of understanding his psychological state.

25th February 1970: Murder of Luna and Bhantu

  • Escalation: Another horrific twist to the case: Luna and Bhantu are also murdered. While not all circumstances can be detailed, this reinforces the disturbing picture of a man spiraling into complete detachment from societal and familial norms.
  • Sibling Dynamics: Did Luna and Bhantu’s actions mirror their older sister’s, further destabilizing their father? The story hints at potential love interests that added fuel to Upen Rajkhowa’s breakdown.

14th August 1970: Case Investigation & Reconstruction

  • Forensics and the Narrative: Forensic reports confirm the cause of death. It’s critical to understand how such reports align with the novel’s depiction of events. Does the physical evidence tell a similar story, or are there gaps the book fills in through creative retelling?
  • The Investigation: Police are actively analyzing crime scenes and creating a comprehensive timeline. Did any potential evidence point to additional actors involved? Are there inconsistencies the book leaves unexplored?

November 1970 – November 1972: Rajkhowa’s Attempted Suicide, Court Case & Conviction

  • Suicidal Tendencies: Rajkhowa’s suicide attempt reveals the possible depth of his despair and potential recognition of the enormity of his actions. His attempt to take his life might even indicate a distorted attempt to exert some final control.
  • Confronting Justice His presence in court as a convict highlights the dramatic contrast between his previous social standing and his downfall. Did he display any signs of remorse? How did the trial unfold?
  • Final Judgment: The conviction reflects the legal system ultimately holding him accountable, yet perhaps without ever fully dissecting the complex, twisted motives that led to the murders.

Please note: This timeline relies on information from the book, which is potentially a partial or even slightly fictionalized interpretation of actual events. Nonetheless, it serves as a solid starting point for a deeper analysis.

Upen Rajkhowa

Rajkhowa’s Daughters: Challenging societal norms

Rajkhowa’s daughters’ relationships were at the heart of the complex situation that unfolded. His eldest daughter, Nirmali, fell in love with a non-Brahmin engineer, a direct conflict with caste expectations. Similarly, her sisters, Jonali and Rupali, also had relationships that transgressed social boundaries. These love affairs fueled a sense of dishonor within Rajkhowa and eventually led to the shocking murders.

Nirmali (Linu): Love Beyond Caste Boundaries

  • Her Relationship with Bhupen: Nirmali’s decision to pursue a relationship with Bhupen, a man from a lower caste, was a direct challenge to deeply ingrained societal norms within Assam. Her actions defied her family’s expectations, which traditionally would have dictated an arranged marriage within the Brahmin community.
  • Determination and Self-Agency: Despite encountering familial disapproval and resistance to her relationship, Nirmali exhibited determination and a strong sense of self-agency. Her actions represented a yearning for individual freedom and choice within the highly structured traditional world she inhabited.
  • Societal Consequences: Nirmali’s challenge to social norms came at a heavy cost. Her relationship with Bhupen not only created discord within her family but also led to ostracization and gossip within the broader community. The social consequences her actions provoked ultimately contributed to the tragic outcome of the story.

Jonali (Luna) and Rupali (Bhantu): Following Nirmali’s Example

  • Romantic Involvement: Although very little information is available about their romantic involvements, the younger daughters were similarly seen as rebellious and unacceptable by Upen Rajkhowa. Luna’s relationship with Nirmal, also from a lower caste, mirrored Nirmali’s challenge to the societal expectations her father held dear.
  • Youthful Desires: Unlike Nirmali, both Luna and Bhantu are portrayed as younger and perhaps more impressionable. Their pursuit of love interests highlights the common desires of youth and the challenges of navigating these urges within an inflexible social structure.
  • Limited Autonomy: Since details on their individual love stories are scant, Luna and Bhantu represent the wider issue of restricted choices and lack of autonomy faced by young women in a patriarchal society.

Broader Reflections on Assamese Society

These individual examples reflect several overarching societal issues present in traditional Assamese society:

  • Rigid Caste System: The caste system deeply influenced social structure and marriage customs. Marrying outside of one’s caste was generally frowned upon and could lead to severe social repercussions. The daughters’ choices were considered “shameful” by their father, exposing the deep prejudices inherent in the social structure.
  • Limited Opportunities for Women: Women, historically, had limited rights and autonomy in Assamese society. Their primary societal roles centered around marriage and household duties. Nirmali, Luna, and Bhantu’s desires to follow their individual paths illuminate the restricted choices available to women and the consequences they faced for daring to challenge convention.
  • Lack of Support Networks: Support for independent choice or non-conformity was negligible. Nirmali, and in the background, Luna and Bhantu, were portrayed as relatively isolated from understanding and support within their society as they defied tradition. This isolation made navigating such issues extremely difficult.

Understanding the Impact

Understanding how Upen Rajkhowa’s daughters were viewed as challenging societal norms helps frame their situation. It’s important to see how their desire for independence in such a structured traditional society contributed to the family’s complex circumstances and the unthinkable crimes that unfolded.

Motives for the crimes: Deeper Analysis

The tragedy of Upen Rajkhowa stems from a dangerous combination of personal flaws and deeply-ingrained societal pressures. Let’s break down the motives:

1. Rigid Adherence to Tradition

  • Caste as Identity: Upen Rajkhowa was a product of a society obsessed with caste. His identity and sense of self-worth were inextricably tied to his social status as a Brahmin. Any perceived transgression of caste boundaries threatened not only his family’s standing but his entire personal worldview.
  • Outdated Ideals: This adherence to a strict traditional code extended to expectations of family and marriage. He likely viewed marriage as a way to preserve social capital, with romantic love playing a secondary role. His daughters’ choices challenged the very basis of the world as he knew it.
  • Inflexibility vs. Change: Rajkhowa’s mindset appears incredibly inflexible. The evolving world, where young people increasingly demanded autonomy in choosing partners, conflicted directly with his core beliefs. This dissonance might have created unbearable cognitive strain.

2. Societal Pressure and Family Honor

  • Public Image: To a man like Rajkhowa, upholding family honor wasn’t simply a personal ideal; it was a duty woven into the fabric of his social existence. Every choice his daughters made potentially reflected on him as a father and judge.
  • Patriarchal Control: In a deeply patriarchal society, daughters were perceived as extensions of their father. Their actions were a direct reflection on him. Losing control over them – a concept he likely could not comprehend – brought shame and dishonor.
  • Societal Judgment: It’s important to imagine the intense scrutiny a high-profile man like Rajkhowa would have faced. Any gossip, speculation, or questioning of his family’s actions could have amplified the sense of humiliation.

3. Emotional Suppression and Mental Deterioration

  • Masculinity and Vulnerability: Societal expectations often restrict men from showing “weakness” like sadness, uncertainty, or the need to ask for help. Rajkhowa likely internalized this, resulting in suppressed emotions.
  • Unexpressed Grief and Rage: Anger, humiliation, and a loss of control fester inside him with no means of healthy expression. This can create immense internal conflict and contribute to mental anguish.
  • Unhealthy Outlets: The book hints at supernatural beliefs potentially offering an unhealthy channel for his unresolved anxieties, further blurring the lines of rationality in his actions.

4. Important Considerations

Remember, it’s dangerous to oversimplify such a complex crime. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Lack of Information: The narrative and information we have about Upen Rajkhowa are limited. It’s impossible to have a complete psychological profile.
  • Ambiguity in “The Rajkhowa Murders”: Literature often leaves spaces for interpretation. There is ambiguity on how directly supernatural ideas and Rajkhowa’s declining mental state influenced the decision to commit the murders.
  • Multiple Influences: Upen Rajkhowa’s motives stem from a complex interplay of his personal worldview, societal pressure, and potential psychological instability. Analyzing any one factor in isolation provides only a partial understanding.

Lessons to be learned: Pathways to a Better Future

The Rajkhowa case shines a harsh light on aspects of our social order that desperately need reevaluation. Here’s a breakdown of the important lessons:

Adapting to Changes in Thought and Social Norms

  • Tradition is Not Static: It’s important to respect tradition and culture but understand they are not unchanging monoliths. Traditions evolve and should be reassessed to serve societal well-being rather than act as suffocating restrictions.
  • Modernity vs. Orthodoxy: Rigidly clinging to orthodox, outdated concepts, particularly those harmful to human dignity and rights, is counterproductive. Embracing evolving ideas on love, marriage, and family relationships is essential for progress.
  • Community Discussion: Healthy conversation between tradition-bearers and those advocating for modernization is vital. Respectful debate leads to greater understanding and creates spaces where necessary shifts can occur organically.

Valuing Individual Independence

  • Autonomy & Support: Encouraging individual autonomy within healthy boundaries strengthens people. This means allowing choices over marriage, career, and self-expression while supporting such choices even if they run counter to traditional beliefs.
  • Ending Coercive Control: Coercing or forcing behavior through threats to family honor or ostracization has no place in contemporary society. It perpetuates an insidious cycle of fear and suppresses individual potential.
  • Parental Education: It’s vital to emphasize love, open communication, and trust between parents and children. Children shouldn’t feel they have to hide major life choices out of fear of reprisal.

Mental Health Awareness and Support Systems

  • Destigmatizing Emotional Struggles: Upen Rajkhowa’s story demonstrates the devastating consequences of suppressing emotions. Creating safe spaces for talking about mental health is critical for both men and women to prevent internalizing distress.
  • Accessible Resources: Mental healthcare shouldn’t be a luxury. Increasing resources including therapy, support groups, and crisis intervention helps build a more caring and empathetic society.
  • Compassionate Community: Promoting open discussions around mental health allows for breaking down stereotypes and encourages those struggling to seek help, offering crucial support systems they may desperately need.

Advocating for Gender Equality

  • Challenging Patriarchy: Rajkhowa’s daughters were tragically caught in a double bind— bound by his expectations while simultaneously blamed for their transgression of these same norms. Dismantling the patriarchal mindset that views women as possessions is key.
  • Women’s Agency: Fostering a society where a woman’s life choices are her own, where she is an equal partner rather than a subordinate, is vital to protecting both individual dignity and collective human rights.
  • Addressing Double Standards: The intense burden to uphold family honor should not fall solely on women. Both men and women must be able to make life choices free from restrictive gender standards.

It’s Crucial to Remember

These lessons do not simply apply to individuals; they require systemic change:

  • Educational Reform: Incorporating emotional intelligence, healthy communication, and critical thinking into curricula encourages future generations to break free from the harmful mindsets of the past.
  • Policy Implementation: Laws that enforce equal rights, protect against domestic violence, and promote safe reporting mechanisms are vital to protect women and support those caught in oppressive family situations.
  • Adapting to Changes: It’s vital to shift away from rigidity and embrace changes in thought and social norms.
  • Individual Independence: Encouraging individuality is crucial, giving people the freedom to make their own choices about life and relationships.
  • Mental Health Awareness: Creating awareness and open discussions about mental health can mitigate similar future tragedies.
  • Gender Equality: Challenging patriarchal views that constrain women is necessary for genuine societal progress.

Conclusion

Upen Rajkhowa’s story is a harsh reminder of the destructive impact of outdated traditions and gender inequality. To prevent similar tragedies, let’s strive for adaptability, emotional openness, and unwavering support for individual freedom and equal rights, regardless of gender or social status.

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