The murder of a 22-year-old Dalit in Udumalpet district of Tamil Nadu on Sunday is the latest among a spate of honour killings that happened in in the state in the recent past. It once again brings into focus the ugly role caste-pride plays in the society here.
On Sunday, at a busy road near the bus station in Udumalpet, a group of unidentified men with hatchets and sickles hacked V Sankar to death allegedly for marrying Kausalya, an upper caste-Hindu. She too was badly injured in the attack.
Shankar, who hails from Chavadi Street in Kumaralingam village in Udumalpet, married Kousalya, 19, from Palani eight months ago. Sankar was a final year student of PA Engineering College in Pollachi while Kausalya is a second year BSc Computer Science student of college in Udumalpet.
Their marriage, however, was opposed by Kausalya’s parents, but Sankar’s family accepted them and the duo had been living in Kumaralingam since their marriage.
A day after the brutal murder, Kausalya’s father Chinnasamy surrendered in the court.
The DMK and the other opposition parties have criticised the ruling AIADMK for not tackling caste issues in the state. But Sankar’s murder is just another brutal killing that brings to light the violence against the Dalit community in an otherwise progressive state.
Dominated by the Thevars in the South, Vanniyars in the North and the Gounders in the West, Tamil Nadu has a history of violent responses to inter-caste marriages since the 1980s. While it was more prevalent in South Tamil Nadu till a few years ago, the increasing numbers now show West Tamil Nadu is no exemption.
The recent incidents—murder of engineering graduate Gokulraj in Namakkal in June last year and the chopping of the limbs of another Dalit youth G Senthil the same year for having an affair with a higher caste Hindu girl—have brought to light how religion and caste play a dangerous role in Tamil Nadu.
The Intellectual Circle for Dalit Actions (ICDA), in its fact-finding report after the brutal murder of Gokulraj, says the ugly caste divisions have come to the fore once again with the caste-Hindu groups deliberately campaigning against inter-caste marriages.
The report says these groups have created a well-oiled network of informants and are backed by casteist leaders who aim crack down on inter-caste love affairs in their region.
“These incidents and the murder in Udumalpet reveal a pattern of casteist barbarity,” says C. Lakshmanan, assistant professor, MIDS, Chennai.
According to NCRB, Tamil Nadu comes second, next to Uttar Pradesh, when it comes to murder due to love affairs and illicit relationships. In 2014, 351 murders were reported in Tamil Nadu due to illicit relationships and love affairs. Of these at least 75, say the rights activists in Tamil Nadu, were honour killings.
Says A. Kathir, founder-director of Evidence, a rights organisation which works on honour killings and murders, “Caste inequality is more acute in West Tamil Nadu. Caste pride and treating women as men’s possession are the prime factor behind honour killings.”
With elections just round the corner, the political parties in the state have failed to take up the killing of Sankar. Dr S. Ramadoss, the author of caste polarisation of votes in the state, who publicly condemned inter-caste marriages, refused to comment on the killing of Sankar.
On the other hand, the DMK has given out a statement criticising AIADMK, while the “saviour” of Dalits, Thol Thirumavalavan and his VCK have taken sides with the family of the deceased.
“Caste outfits masquerading as political parties are ready to go to any extent to break inter-caste marriages as they fear it will spell a death knell for casteism,” says P. Sampath, President of the Tamil Nadu Untouchability Eradication Front.
The killing numbers
Total murders reported in 2014 in India: 33,981
Murders reported in 2014 because of love, illicit relationships and honour killings: 2531 or 7.4 per cent. The number was 2,369 in 2013.
Love affairs and Illicit relationship is the biggest motives for culpable homicides after property dispute, monetary gain and personal vendetta
Killed for love in 2014: the five worst states
Uttar Pradesh 353
Tamil Nadu 351
Madhya Pradesh 210