Law and History Review

Forum: Maneuvering the Personal Law System in Colonial India

The Two Husbands of Vera Tiscenko: Apostasy, Conversion, and Divorce in Late Colonial India

Rohit De c1

On June 27, 1940, Vera Tiscenko, a Polish actress formerly with the Moscow Arts Theatre, “of her own free will and after due deliberation” embraced the Islamic faith at the Nakoda Mosque at 19 Chowringee Road, Calcutta. Vera Tiscenko's journey from Moscow to colonial Calcutta was a long and tortuous one. Fleeing the country after the revolution, Vera settled in Berlin where she married a Russian émigré, Eugene Tiscenko. Over the next few years they moved across Europe from Nazi Berlin to civil war Spain and finally settled in Mussolini's Rome, where Vera gave birth to a son, Oleg. In 1938, Eugene Tiscenko went to Edinburgh to qualify for a British medical degree, while Vera and her son left Rome for Calcutta after being invited by Professor Shahid Suhrawardy, her former director at the Moscow Arts Theatre. The reason for the separation between the couple remains unclear. Chief Justice Derbyshire was to speculate that Eugene Tiscenko might have intended to settle somewhere in British India after qualifying, but Vera herself admitted that the marriage had been unhappy. Finding “relief and solace in the teachings of Islam,” she cabled her husband the news of her conversion and requested that he accept the Islamic faith. Eugene Tiscenko replied that his religious convictions were unshakable and “refused absolutely” to change his faith.

Rohit De is a doctoral candidate in the Department of History at Princeton University <rohitde@princeton.edu>. He previously trained as a lawyer at the Yale Law School and the National Law School, Bangalore. He would like to thank Elizabeth Kolsky, Bhavani Raman, and Mitra Sharafi for their comments and suggestions.

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