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The bold face of Tamil Nadu's honour killings

By A Ganesh Nadar
June 15, 2016 13:09 IST
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Yuvaraj, who is accused of killing a Dalit youth in Tamil Nadu, has been externed to Tirunelveli where A Ganesh Nadar/ met him.

In July 2015, Gokulraj, a Dalit, was murdered in Pallipalayam, Namakkal district, Tamil Nadu. His crime: Speaking to a woman from the dominant Gounder caste.

Some 17 people were arrested for the crime of who five were released on bail and seven were held under the Goondas Act. It is the 18th person to be arrested in the case, Yuvaraj, who has grabbed the headlines.

The founder of a Gounder youth group, Yuvaraj evaded arrest for three months before engineering a surrender along with hundreds of his supporters, thus embarrassing the police.

After his surrender, Yuvaraj was sent to police custody and from there to jail. He obtained conditional bail by which he has to sign in in the Town police station in Tirunelveli twice a day. The choice of the city in southern Tamil Nadu is a matter of irony given its history of caste clashes.

For the last two years, Yuvaraj has headed the Dheeran Chinnamalai Gounder Peravai which he describes as a social service organisation which preaches that all castes are equal.

At the hotel in Tirunelveli where he stayed till recently, there are more policemen guarding him than what a Tamil Nadu minister usually has.

The two-storeyed hotel has been sanitised by the police, and Yuvaraj is the lone person staying there.

Asked who pays for the considerable expenses incurred, Yuvaraj says all his expenses including the hotel bills are being taken care of by "friends."

He plans to be in Tirunelveli for a month after which he will seek a fresh order from the court.

Meeting Yuvaraj at the hotel is not easy, with the policemen refusing access till an order from the Tirunelveli police commissioner's office does the trick.

Yuvaraj has now moved out of the hotel and rented a house close to the police station where he has to sign in every day.

The move came after two youth from the Viduthalai Chiruthaikal Katchi -- a Dalit political party -- were arrested for threatening him. Yuvaraj is nonchalant.

"They were planning to attack me," he says, "and the police arrested them as a preventive measure. This is not the first time that this has happened. Even when I was in jail there was an attempt to attack me, but I escaped."

The security cordon around him has been beefed up. While 20 policemen guarded him at the hotel, 70 policemen working in shifts keep a vigil over him now.

Apart from going to the police station twice a day, he spends the entire day indoors. "The police are worried about my safety," he says. "I know I am not in custody and after signing twice a day at the police station I am free to go where I please, but I am not doing that."

"I do not want to harass the police by going around just because I am getting bored. I have no work in this district and I am going to cooperate with the police who are doing a lot to keep me safe," he adds.

Anyone who attacks or harms him, says Yuvaraj, will become an instant hero for their caste members, and so there are people eager to score political points by attacking him.

He is visibly happy to meet an outsider, and seems to be enjoying all the attention. His manner is not of of someone facing a serious murder charge.

"They have implicated me in this case," he says, "because I was present at the temple when Gokulraj was talking to a girl from a higher caste. There were so many others in the temple at that time. Why have they only caught me?"

This, he adds, is not the first time the police have falsely implicated him in a case. It had happened earlier, too, in cases involving caste clashes.

Politicians don't like him, he says, by way of explanation. "I have tried to keep the peace between castes and this is not liked by politicians who like to divide and rule."

When he was in hiding, eluding the police who were trying to arrest him in the Gokulraj case, Yuvaraj was prolific on social media. He also granted interviews to television news channels.

Ask him if this was not a way of mocking the police for their inability to apprehend him, and he says, "I wanted people to know my side of the story. The police had put out their version, the public had to know my version or they would have thought me guilty."

"I was not mocking the police. I was simply telling people my side of the story."

Yuvaraj is emphatic that he has nothing to do with Gokulraj's murder and insists that he has the evidence to establish his innocence. "Gokulraj," he alleges, "committed suicide because he was involved with five girls, I had nothing to do with it."

Deputy Superintendent of Police Vishnupriya, who was investigating the case, committed suicide some weeks after Gokulraj's death. Yuvaraj says he told the DSP, "an honest police officer," that all the people she had arrested were not the real culprits.

"At that time the SP (superintendent of police) told her (Vishnupriya) to arrest five more persons under the Goondas Act. She refused, so the SP threatened to arrest her for earlier arresting the wrong people. That is why she committed suicide," alleges Yuvaraj.

The popular impression in Tamil Nadu about the Gounder community is that they work very hard, are very honest and very rich. More than money, what matters most to the Gounders is honour.

When Yuvraj surrendered he was treated as a hero by some Gounders. On the first day that he went to sign in at the Town police station in Tirunelveli, 10 cars accompanied him.

Now only two police cars accompany him.

Tirunelveli has a large presence of people belonging to the so-called scheduled castes and the VCK and Puthiya Tamizhagam, both Dalit political parties, are active. The sooner Yuvaraj gets out of their hair, the policemen say, the better.

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A Ganesh Nadar / in Tirunelveli