Teenage bride beheaded for extramarital affair in 19th-century Kolkata
Patriarchy, adultery are not just terms which have an association with the present times. These are major aspects of our reality which have existed since age old times and have been responsible for shaping the status of women even in modern society. One thing that has always been established in the end was “The woman is at fault” and the other obvious outcome being the humongous price that she had to pay for it, regardless of the time period. Elokeshi Murder Scandal way back in 1873, was a reflection of how society treated its women and also sheds lights on the response of the ignorant society about violence against women.
The gruesome murder of 16-year-old Elokeshi had such a huge impact in Colonial Calcutta that even today, it is reflected in the art of the Kalighat Pata and in museums across the world. On May 27, 1873, Nabin Chandra Banerji, a government employee working in a printing press, murdered his wife Elokeshi by chopping off her head with a bonti out of sheer vengeance. As soon as he decapitated Elokeshi, he surrendered at the local police station saying, “Hang me. The world is a wilderness to me. I cannot wait to join my wife in the next life.”
Elokeshi offering betel leaf to the mahant
But what led to this heinous and barbaric murder which came to be known as ‘Tarakeshwar Scandal?’ What else but extra-marital affair with fatal consequences. Nabin and Elokeshi were childless and Elokeshi went to Madhav Chandra Giri, a head priest or mahant of a Shiva Temple at Tarakeshwar in pursuit of divine medication for childbirth under the guidance of her parents. Consequently, this led to a sexual relationship between the two, that led to the murder.
Nabin Chandra eventually got to know about the entire episode and decided to penalize his wife for her sin. He simply beheaded his wife, whom he considered his sole property. The gruesome murder of Elokeshi horrified Bengal and gave rise to two controversial cases - the trial of Nabin Chandra for the murder of Elokeshi and the trial of the mahant for charges of adultery.
The scandal had multiple narratives. The murderer, Nabin, was looked upon as a victim by many who had every right to uphold his honour by killing his wife. The second was, how mahant took advantage of the situation and exploited the teenager. Both the men were sentenced but soon freed after three years. The mahant returned to regular life and became the chief priest while Nabin Chandra disappeared into oblivion. It was only Elokeshi who lost her life and was still looked down upon even after her death. The British became the upholders of Hindu law to impress the locals in order to win over the Indians while dealing with this adultery case establishing the complete authority of a man over his woman.
Mahant offers Elokeshi childbirth medicine
Art and Literature have existed as the best form of expression. Plays, poems, books and pamphlets spoke about this scandal where Nabin was acquitted whereas Elokeshi, the real victim was blamed and her character questioned. Elokeshi’s murder was immortalized in the form of Kalighat paintings where Nabin is seen as the hero, the mahant is the villain and Elokeshi, of course as the fallen woman who got her well-deserved punishment. Surprisingly, these paintings of Elokeshi’s story are available everywhere be it Albert Museum in London, Brooklyn and Cleveland Museum of Art in USA, Royal Ontario Museum in Canada, National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi and gives a deep insight into the struggle for existence of women from the yesteryears which is still prevalent in present times.