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Is Tamil Nadu the new epicentre for honour killings?

By R Ramasubramanian
March 15, 2016 18:20 IST
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Caste-based violence is on the rise in Tamil Nadu but the state government stays in denial, says R Ramasubramanian.

In another honour killing at Udumalpet in Tirupur district in Tamil Nadu on March 13, Shankar, a Dalit engineering student, was slaughtered to death by unidentified hired goons in broad daylight.

His wife, Kausalya, 19, received grievous injuries and was admitted to a government hospital for treatment.

On March 13, the couple was visiting the market in Udumalpet to purchase Shankar’s new clothes for his birthday. While they were on their way to the bus-stand, three people alighted from a motor-cycle and started attacking them with sickles and other weapons.

Shankar lost his life while on the way to hospital, and Kausalya, who received serious injuries to her head, is still fighting for her life.  The gruesome act was recorded on a nearby shop’s CCTV camera. 

Kausalya belongs to the Thevar community, a dominant caste in Tamil Nadu, and the region is notorious for simmering unrest between the Dalits and other dominant castes.

Shankar, who would have celebrated his birthday on April 9, was a final year student of engineering. “In a few months from now he would have emerged as the first graduate from our family. We are devastated,” says his brother Vigneswaran.

Shankar had a long-standing relationship with Kausalya since the past few years, and they got married eight months ago. Kausalya was living with her in-laws at the Komaralingam village in Udumalpet after her wedding, and her family vehemently opposed the marriage.

 “My parents, grandmother and uncle are responsible for this and all of them must be hanged. They didn’t recognise our marriage and wanted me to leave my husband. This is an honour killing. We had filed a verbal complaint with the police eight months ago, immediately after the marriage.  But no action was taken,” an inconsolable Kausalya told the media from the Government Hospital in Udumalpet.

“My husband’s last minute cry for help is still haunting me,” she added.

On Monday night, the police returned Shankar’s body to his parents. The police did not allow Kausalya to take part in the last rites, fearing law and order problems in the area.

Just hours before Shankar’s body was returned to his parents, Chinnasamy, Kausalya’s father, surrendered before a magistrate, and the court remanded him in judicial custody until March 21.

A massive search is on by the police to nab the hired killers.   

On a steady rise

Human rights groups and Dalit activists claim that honour killings are on a steady rise in Tamil Nadu which has seen 81 such deaths in the past three years.

“Not a single case has ended up in conviction, even though family members are the main accused in all the cases,” says A Kathir, managing director of ‘Evidence’, a non-governmental organisation that works for justice to Dalits and other oppressed classes and the downtrodden in society.

He says that in 2014, the Supreme Court had directed all the states to file a report about the prevalence of honour killings.

“Twenty-two states complied, and accepted that honour killings are indeed happening.  But Tamil Nadu, which is one of the few states that did not file a status report, maintains that there are no honour killings in the state,” he adds. 

In fact, the Law Commission of India in a 2014 recommendation had told the government to enact a separate law to deal with the honour killings and this was supported by the National Commission for Women too at that time.

“In 2010, Union ministers Veerappa Moily and P Chidambaram repeatedly said and promised that they would bring in a special law to deal with this menace soon, but nothing happened on the ground,” Kathir adds.

Majority not Dalits?

Except the Left, the Dalit political parties and Dalit outfits, no major political party has strongly condemned this incident.

So far, neither Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa nor the Dravida Munetra Kazhagam president M Karunanidhi has made any statement. 

“Major political parties are afraid of losing the votes of dominant castes. Usually, the voting patterns of dominant communities are consolidated, and especially in issues such as inter-caste marriages and in their subsequent developments, this is the prevailing general norm. Dalits have never voted in a consolidated manner. So you can understand the stoic silence of the major parties,” says a senior faculty at the political science department of Madras University. 

But Kathir says that out of the 81 honour killings in the state in the last three years, the majority are not Dalits.

“This is an interesting finding.  Well over 80 per cent of these were women belonging to dominant communities such as Konars and Thevars. Dalit political groups who used to jump into the fray whenever a person from their community got killed, never bothered when a woman belonging to a dominant community took her own life after the eruption of post-wedding problems with a Dalit youth,” he says.

“Dalits are only a minority out of those killed for the so-called honour. But the message to them is spine-chilling. This trend should also be taken in to account,” he adds.

“The act of murdering someone from their own community saves the attackers not only from the tag of honour killing but also it helps them to escape the clutches of Prevention of Atrocities against SC & ST Act, which is a stringent one, at least on paper,” he says.

"In such type of killings, it is difficult to prove that they were indeed honour killings because the family always maintains that the incident happened due to family bickering,” he adds.

Though the national and international media took up the latest honour killing in a big way, the local press was, to a large extent, docile.  The news was pushed to inner pages of almost all the major dailies.

Image: The screen-grab from the CCTV footage captured at Udumalpet in Tirupur district in Tamil Nadu shows unidentified men attacking Shankar and his wife in broad daylight in a market area.

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R Ramasubramanian in Chennai
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