Print edition : July 12, 2013

Elavarasan and Divya. Photo: By special arrangement

IN November 2012, caste flames devoured three Dalit colonies in Dharmapuri district of Tamil Nadu. The anger over the “marriage” in October of E. Elavarasan, a Dalit youth from Natham colony, and N. Divya, belonging to the “Most Backward” Vanniyar caste, from the nearby Sellankottai hamlet in Naikkankottai village, exploded on November 7 after the girl’s father, Nagaraj, killed himself “in shame”. As many as 136 houses were set on fire and 325 houses destroyed in the three colonies of Natham, Anna Nagar and Kondampatti in Naikkankottai (“Caste fury”, Frontline, December 14, 2012).

Since then, the couple had been on the run fearing threats to their lives from a caste outfit. Divya recently decided to abandon her Dalit partner and go back to her mother, N. Thenmozhi.

In a habeas corpus petition filed in the Madras High Court in March this year, Thenmozhi had accused Elavarasan and his family of “abducting and illegally detaining” her daughter since October 8. On June 7, Divya sprang a surprise by appearing before the court with her mother. Deposing before a Division Bench of the court, Divya, it is learnt, said she was “in a highly disturbed state of mind” following her father’s suicide and the violence thereafter and wished to be with her mother.

K. Balu of the Advocates Forum for Social Justice and a functionary of the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), a party with a social base in the Vanniyar community which has been opposing what it contemptuously terms “celluloid love marriages”, said Divya also had expressed her unwillingness to see Elavarasan “now”.

Elavarasan waited on the court premises hoping to meet Divya and convince her to return to his family, but his efforts were in vain. She, however, did not say anything against him or his family. “We are separated forcefully,” Elavarasan later told Frontline in Chennai.

Lingering questions

Questions have been raised on whether Divya was forced to appear in court or not. Balu said the boy was 19 years old when he claimed to have married the girl, who was 20 then. “It is against the tenets of The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, and does not carry any legal sanctity,” he said.

Elavarasan’s parents said their son’s “marriage” was solemnised first at a temple in Andhra Pradesh and again at a temple near Dharmapuri maintained by The Hindu Religious & Charitable Endowments Board of Tamil Nadu. They said the Dharmapuri temple authorities refused at the last minute to provide them the marriage registration certificate and the wedding photo for fear of violent reaction.

“Had they given the marriage certificate, it would have been clinching documentary evidence. It also would have been a different story altogether today,” said a distraught T. Elango, the boy’s father, who works as a record room assistant in the Dharmapuri Government Medical College hospital.

The writer and former legislator N. Ravikumar of the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) was of the view that although outsiders had no right to interfere in a marriage, “when it impacts a society, it needs to be viewed seriously”. In this case, the marriage had triggered violence in which nearly 500 Dalits suffered, he said.

“The state has to interfere to maintain law and order and provide succour to the victims of the violence, a direct fallout of the marriage,” he said. “Do all lovers carry documentary proof of their spontaneous mutual affection? Is it a sin to love someone outside a caste?” asked Ravikumar.

He said the argument on whether the boy was a minor or not was absurd at this stage, adding that a caste-based party had enacted a drama of deceit to separate the youngsters.

U. Vasuki, national secretary of the All India Democratic Women’s Association, said marriage within the same caste ensured the perpetuation of the caste structure since women were construed as “guardians of caste purity”. She said Divya had been pressured by the Vanniyar community and the PMK. “How can a young girl stand up against such an extreme trauma? She is being emotionally blackmailed,” Vasuki said.

Activists see the incident as a focal point to rally against caste-based forces that are out to create divisions in society for “cheap political gains”. They said even during the last hearing of the High Court petition, Divya had told the court that she would remain with Elavarasan. He had accompanied her then.

“We never support the popular belief of inter-caste marriages eradicating caste in society. Instead, these marriages create a new caste order, with their progenies carrying the tag of either ‘no caste’ or their father’s caste. We wish for a radical shift in the mindset of the people,” said VCK leader Thol. Tirumavalavan.

‘Political design’

He blamed the PMK for exploiting the traumatic situation of the girl in order to regain its eroding political base. “At a time when we are striving for a casteless society, the PMK is taking people to a dark era. It is an atrocious act of social evil,” he said.

“We have been living together since October. I never thought she would desert me. She has become a victim of circumstances,” Elavarasan said.

He and his parents have submitted a complaint with the Dharmapuri Town police, as a precautionary measure, saying that Divya had been missing since June 4.

In the meantime, a high-level panel constituted by the High Court, following a petition filed by S. Senkodi and a batch of lawyers and activists, held three camps in the riot-affected colonies from June 9 to 11 to receive petitions from the victims for adequate compensation.

The State government had sanctioned Rs.7.32 crore for various rehabilitation works in the affected colonies, including Rs.1.63 crore for 268 families from the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund. “We are taking necessary steps to mitigate the victims’ sufferings,” said District Collector R. Lilly.

R. Ilangovan