Honour killing in the time of lockdown in Tamil Nadu

Published : April 02, 2020 15:33 IST

A. Kadir (right) of Evidence, a Madurai-based Dalit rights group, a file picture. Photo: THE HINDU ARCHIVES

Neither the fear of the COVID-19 pandemic nor the lockdown in the States seemed to have deterred casteist forces in Tamil Nadu from killing a 24-year-old youth for marrying out of caste, in his village near Arani town in Tiruvannamalai district.

Although both the man and the woman belong to groups that are classified as most backward caste (MBC) by the State’s caste classification list, M. Sudhakar of Morappan Thangal village belonged to the Oddar caste, which is socially considered to be the lowest among the MBC groups. The woman from the Vanniyar community and from the nearby Ondikudisai hamlet, fell in love with Sudhakar and both got married at Walajah town about six months ago.

Her family was strongly opposed to the marriage. It convened a local panchayat (akin to the khap panchayats in north India), which ruled their marriage null and void and forcefully separated the couple. They also beat up Sudhakar and chased him away from the village. Since only three families of the Oddar caste, who used to dig trenches and pits for sundry works, live in the village, none raised their voice against the diktat of the local panchayat, in which Vanniyars are in a majority. Sudhakar’s parents are poor daily wage labourers, so they preferred to remain silent.

Fearing for his life, Sudhakar’s parents sent him to Chennai where he worked in construction. He had never visited the village since then until now. “His parents used to go to Chennai to see him. Meanwhile, the family of the woman too had started making arrangements to marry her off to another man from their caste,” said P. Selvam, Secretary, Tiruvannamalai District Untouchability Eradication Committee, a wing of the CPI (M), which has taken up the issue.

When the country shut down owing to the pandemic, Sudhakar found it extremely difficult to make ends meet in Chennai. He chose to return to the village. “But what he did subsequently had cost his life. He made an attempt to meet his wife, which infuriated the girl’s relatives and caste people,” said Selvam. On March 27, when he was alone near the village tank, the girl’s father, Moorthy (56), and his relative, Kadiravan, attacked Sudhakar with iron rods. He died on the spot.

The murderers surrendered at the Arani Town Police station immediately, which registered a case. A. Kadir, executive director of the Madurai-based non-governmental organisation ‘Evidence’, said that as per Supreme Court directions, when an honour killing takes place due to inter-caste marriage, stringent action should be initiated against top officials of the district administration.

“The government must arrest those who sat in the local panchayat that nullified the legally solemnised marriage,” he said.

The lockdown in Tamil Nadu has also created peculiar social problems. Many, especially Dalits who have migrated to cities like Bangalore and Chennai to escape caste atrocities and also to earn a living, had no other option but to return to their villages.

G. Sugumaran of the Pondicherry-based Federation for People’s Rights told  Frontline that many Dalits and vulnerable people were facing threats and discrimination and only a few such incidents were getting reported from across the State.

“The respective district administrations must remain sensitive to such developments and chalk out a comprehensive plan so that those facing threats are insulated from any sort of violence,” he said. Sugumaran also said that it was essential to enact a separate legislation to punish honour killings.

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