“She loved being a journalist more than anything else in the world,” said Mohammad Azam, the younger brother of Rizvana Tabassum, a freelance journalist in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, who was found hanging in her room on the morning of 4 May.
All that the 27-year-old left behind was a note on a board in her room, in which she holds a Samajwadi party leader, Shamim Nomani, responsible for her death.
An FIR has been filed under IPC 306 and the SP leader has been arrested. The journalist has not only left behind an irreplaceable void in the family, but also a legacy of commendable reporting.
The Dreadful Morning & Suicide Note
Recalling the fateful day, her brother told The Quint, “She used to wake up at 9 am every day. That day she didn't wake up till 10 am. We shouted her name, then we called her on her phone. After getting no response, we banged on the door of her room for 10-15 minutes.”
Her family of seven-to-eight members, including two sisters and three brothers, first assumed that something might have happened to her because she was fasting for Ramzan.
“When we all opened the door, we saw her in that position. There is a pipe in her room, she had tied a ‘dupatta’ (cloth) to the pipe and killed herself,” Azam continued.
In shock, my parents’ first words were, “Pehle meri bacchi ko utaaro.” (First, bring my daughter down). Shocked and unable to comprehend what they just witnessed, the family broke into tears, recalls her brother.
Azam says since that morning, his parents are no longer their usual selves – being shaken to the core.
When The Quint tried speaking to her father, he broke down over call, saying, “What do I say about my daughter?”
When the police reached their place on Monday, they found a note clipped to a board in her room. The note, his brother said, reads, “Shamim Nomani zimmedabar hain (Shamim Nomani is responsible).”
Abhishek Pandey, CO Sadar, Varanasi police said, “When we reached the spot, the first thing we did was send the body for post-mortem and then file the FIR. Nomani too, has been arrested.”
Last Piece of Work Published the Day She Died
Tabassum had completed PG diploma in Hindi Journalism from Banaras Hindu University. She wrote for a number of media outlets, including The Wire, The Print and for The Quint as well.
Her stories gave space to the voices that go unheard amid the humdrum of mainstream news.
From interviewing a BSF Jawan – who was dismissed from service after complaining about the inferior quality food given in the army and fought the 2019 general elections from Varanasi against Prime Minister Narendra Modi – to reporting on how crops of around seven farmers were destroyed in order to make available acres of land for Modi's rally in 2018, her story brought out uncomfortable truths.
She also reported on incidents in BHU. A day before she took her life, on World Press Freedom day, her personal account on what she faced while reporting in the college wearing a hijab was published on Youth Ki Awaaz.
Rizvana, even more recently, wrote about the impact of COVID-19 lockdown in her own city. It was published on Newsclick the same day she took her own life.
She was also part of Khabar Lahriya, a collective of women journalists, who paid a tribute to her on Twitter.
The SP Leader Link
Rizvana’s brother claims that around two-three months ago, Nomani had approached her and expressed his love for her. Rizvana had rejected his advances and conveyed it to him that she wanted to focus on her career.
Following the incident, the SP leader had also apologised to her, his brother claimed. After this, they only spoke regarding work occasionally, when her social work was involved.
“There are a lot of poor families in our area, there is a trust here called 'Sanjha Sanksriti Manch,' through which we would distribute rations among the needy so that no one dies of hunger. Didi spoke to the Trust to help distribute the ration in the lockdown. Nomani, a volunteer there, came to our house a few times,” he added.
His brother continued, “Because of didi, a lot of homes in the area were able to get ration. But a few days ago, Nomani had sent somebody to our place to take a part of our ration and distribute among others in the area, following which there was a little argument between them.”
Pandey says they are investigating the SP leader, hence nothing conclusive can be said yet.
Pandey recalls having interacted with her on several occasions on a wide range of issue. However, he mentioned that Nomani was never brought up in their conversations.
He said, “She became the face of Lohta area in Varanasi. She was doing great work and used to go to the field and report. Her approach to reports was good. When the police heard, we were shocked as well.”
His brother, recalling her sister’s words, said, “Didi used to say. ‘In this lockdown, I don’t want even a single child to die of starvation in our area. If they do, it will mean that I have also died.”
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