The Justice S.R. Singaravelu Commission of Inquiry, which was set up by the Tamil Nadu government to probe the death of the Dalit youth E. Elavarasan of Dharmapuri in 2013, has concluded that it was a “suicide”, dismissing the claims of Dalit activists and rights groups that he was the victim of a brutal “honour killing”.
The operative part of the report is now available with Frontline . The commission submitted the report to the Tamil Nadu government last year, but the government is yet to make it public. The conclusion concurs with the earlier probe reports of the Crime Branch Criminal Investigation Department (CB-CID) and the Dharmapuri district police, which too claimed that it was a case of suicide owing to “severe depression”. The Madras High Court also endorsed their conclusion later.
The commission was constituted by the then Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa on July 8, 2013, to probe the cause of the death of Elavarasan, whose inter-caste marriage with Divya, a girl from the Vanniyar community, a most backward caste (MBC), and the subsequent caste clashes in Dharmapuri district had hogged national attention. Five years after Elavarasan’s death, the commission submitted its report to Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami on August 21, 2018.
The inter-caste marriage had triggered a chain of violent incidents that culminated in two deaths and resulted in caste violence at Natham Colony near Naickenkottai village near Dharmapuri, from where the youth hailed, and other nearby Dalit settlements, in November 2012. The violence left scores of huts and houses damaged. Properties worth crores of rupees were destroyed in arson by Vanniyar mobs (“Caste fury”, December 14, 2012). The main reason for the mob fury was the suicide of Divya’s father, Nagaraj, on November 7, 2012, after his daughter refused to return to the family.
Elavarasan was found dead near a railway track some three kilometres from the Dharmapuri railway station and behind the Dharmapuri Government Arts College on July 4, 2013, a day after Divya told the Madras High Court—which was hearing a habeas corpus petition filed by her mother—that she wished to go back to her family.
In its report, the commission said that Divya’s decision apparently devastated the youth, who committed suicide. ( “Tragic end” , July 26, 2013).
Elavarasan’s death led to outrage and anguish among rights groups, which rejected the police’s claim of suicide and maintained that his death was a case of “honour killing”. The CB-CID submitted its report to the Madras High Court on February 21, 2018. Accepting the report and acting on a public interest litigation petition (WP 21150/2013) from Elavarasan’s father, T. Elango, who sought a Special Investigation Team (SIT) probe into his son’s death, and a batch of connected petitions seeking compensation, a two-member Bench comprising acting Chief Justice Huluvadi G. Ramesh and Justice R. Mahadevan observed that it was “a case of suicidal death and not murder”.
The commission said in its report that the youth committed suicide by jumping in front of a running train near the Dharmapuri railway station on the afternoon of July 4, 2013, in “depression”. The report mostly depends on post-mortem and forensic reports besides a suicide letter purportedly written by Elavarasan, apart from pieces of circumstantial evidence. The commission narrated the tragic tale of the youth by factoring in the incidents that supposedly drove him to death.
The commission said that the reports of the two post-mortems, one by the Dharmapuri Government Medical College and Hospital and the other by All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi, “confirmed beyond doubt that the death of the youth would have been caused from injuries he sustained when he jumped in front of the running train”. The two post-mortem reports, it pointed out, had common factors. “They claimed that there were no ante-mortem injuries on his body. Hence, it was proved that from post-mortem and forensic reports that the death was a suicide,” the commission concluded.
According to the commission, Elavarasan was found dead on the railway tracks on July 4, 2013, at 3:45 p.m. (he was suspected to have died on the spot after the Coimbatore-Kurla Express (Train No. 11014) hit him at 1:20 p.m.).
It added: “Based on a written complaint from Thadangam Village Administrative Officer (VAO) D. Jayaraman, the Railway police registered a complaint under Sec 174 CrPC in Crime No: 96/2013.”
In his complaint, he said that the body of one Elavarasan, aged 20, son of Elango, was found on the railway tracks between Dharmapuri and Sivadi stations after being hit by a train.
The investigation was initially done by the Railway police’s Coimbatore Division Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP), K. Rajendiran. On instructions from the Director General of Police of Tamil Nadu, it was transferred to the Harur DSP, M. Sampath, on July 6, 2013.
The first post-mortem report, according to the commission, was done on July 5, 2013, the day after his death, by a team of three doctors comprising Dr K. Thunder Chief, Dr Satheesh Kumar and Dr Ravikumar, all from the Dharmapuri Government Medical College and Hospital. The team concluded that the death was caused by a train hit and the injuries were caused by the wheels of a running train. It ruled out any other cause for the injuries.
The team then filed a detailed report on the autopsy. The report said that from the “pattern of injuries sustained by the deceased including grease stain on the left forearm, the injuries sustained could have been caused by forceful impact with side of [the] running train. Except for the left forearm injury with grease mark and fatal head injury (consistent with the railway accident), there were no signs of any physical violence of assault or struggle anywhere on the body.” This post-mortem was videographed.
However, in the Madras High Court, Elavarasan’s father, Elango, and other independent parties contested the theory of suicide and expressed doubts over the police probe, saying that the police were asked to close the case fast to “prevent the recurrence of caste clashes”. The High Court formed a panel of four doctors, which analysed the post-mortem report and watched the video. Subsequently, the court asked independent forensic experts Dr Sampath Kumar of Ramachandra Medical College and Dr K. Thangaraj of SRM University Kanchipuram to re-examine Elavarasan’s body.
They analysed the body and studied the video of the post-mortem and the scene of death before submitting their opinions separately to the court, the commission and the CB-CID. Since the controversy around Elavarasan’s death continued to rage, the High Court ordered a second post-mortem by a team of doctors from AIIMS, the commission said.
Accordingly, on July 13, 2013, a three-member AIIMS team comprising Dr T.N. Bharadwaj, Dr Millo Dophin and Dr Sudir Kumar Gupta, constituted by the Madras High Court, performed another post-mortem on Elavarasan’s body, which had been preserved in the mortuary of the Dharmapuri Medical College and Hospital, the commission said. This team’s opinion was:
“After thorough post-mortem examination of the dead body, the board [team] is of the unanimous opinion [that] the cause of the death in the case is extensive carno-cerebral damage (head injury) caused by impact of heavy blunt object. The head injury as well as other injuries are ante-mortem in nature and will result in instantaneous death. The injuries mentioned including fatal injury could be caused by the impact of running train.”
The post-mortem report included a specific note, which said that “there was no evidence of torture [or] physical violence on any part of the body of the deceased time since death is consistent with first post-mortem report”.
In its observations, the High Court said that the AIIMS team pointed out that since the deceased was under the influence of alcohol and had the idea of committing suicide, sustaining injuries resulting in death could be possible following an accidental hit by a moving train. The court accepted the findings and closed the case as a suicide.
According to the commission, the two post-mortem reports agreed that Elavarasan’s death could have been caused by the injuries he suffered when he jumped before the running train. Also, both teams were of the opinion that the injuries found on his body were not a result of human attack. Hence, it said that it was proven beyond doubt that Elavarasan had died of injuries sustained when he jumped before the train.
The internal organs of the deceased were sent to the Forensic Laboratory in Salem. Its report, dated July 11, 2013, claimed that they contained traces of “ethyl alcohol”, suggesting that Elavarasan might have been drunk at the time of his death. No other traces of toxic materials could be found in them, the report noted.
During the investigation, a four-page suicide note claimed to have been left by Elavarasan was found at the scene of death and handed over to the police by one of the villagers. To confirm whether this note was written by the deceased, it was sent to the Tamil Nadu Forensic Science Laboratory in Chennai. “Its report confirmed that the handwriting in the suicide letter and his other ‘admitted handwritings’ were one and the same, confirming that the suicide note was written by Elavarasan just prior to his death,” the commission said.
The commission quoted a few extracts from the suicide note to bolster its conclusion that the youth had committed suicide. The letter, written in Tamil, explained why he had decided to commit suicide. He said in the note that no one else was responsible for his death.
The commission quoted a part of the letter in Tamil in verbatim: “No one is responsible for my death. This is my own decision [to commit suicide]. My last wish is that after my death I hope that Divya would come to see me. If she comes, no one should scold her. She should be allowed [to see my body]. Please, do not admonish her in anger. Divya is a very good girl. I love her so much. She should not suffer because of me. At least she should be happy in life.”
He signed off the note with a poignant last sentence in English: “I love you so much da baby Divya.”
That Elavarasan’s death was a suicide was further confirmed by this note, the commission said. “Hence, from the findings of medical reports and other documents, the death of the youth has been proved beyond doubt that it was a suicide,” it concluded.
Tracing the tragedy
The commission’s report also traced the chain of incidents leading up to Elavarasan’s death. It noted that Elavarasan and Divya got married in secret at the Kottai Perumal temple in Dharmapuri town on October 10, 2012, to which one of his childhood friends, named Manoj Kumar, was witness. The marriage was not accepted by the couple’s parents and many rounds of talks were held in which representatives of both communities participated.
The commission said: “Since Divya refused to go with her father Nagaraj, he, in dejection, committed suicide on November 7, 2012. [A case against Elavarasan was lodged for which Divya appeared before the Dharmapuri Judicial Magistrate Court I and said that she would like to live with Elavarasan.] Following Nagaraj’s suicide, people other than Adi Dravidars unleashed violence against Dalit colonies in Natham Colony, Anna Nagar and Kondampatti villages. Many cases were registered against those who indulged in crimes.” (Some 296 huts and houses of Dalits were destroyed or damaged in the violence.)
The commission said that after her father’s suicide, Divya, on June 4, 2013, suddenly left for her mother’s place. Elavarasan subsequently filed a complaint with the Dharmapuri town police station, saying that his wife was missing. In the meantime, Divya’s mother had filed a habeas corpus petition in the High Court, which also came up for hearing. Divya told the court that she would like to go with her mother since she was saddened by her father’s death and also because of the subsequent violent incidents.
A disillusioned Elavarasan attempted suicide by slashing his wrist on June 7, 2013. Witnesses deposing before the commission said that Divya’s parents had saved him. The same had been recorded as their declarations under Section 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code. His friends Bharathi, Karthick and Manoj Kumar told the commission that he continued to remain in depression. The case came up again before the Madras High Court on July 3, 2013, in which Divya stood her ground, saying that she preferred to live with her mother.
The next day, Elavarasan was found dead in Dharmapuri. The commission noted that his wristwatch had stopped at 1:20 p.m., which corresponded with the timing of the Kurla Express train, which crossed the accident site at that time.
Justice Singaravelu said: “My studies and investigations in the case suggested that the deceased Elavarasan had committed suicide in a state of depression after Divya had deserted him.”
The judge appreciated the role of the investigative agencies and made special mention of the then SP, Asra Garg, who is now on deputation in the CBI in New Delhi. He praised Garg for handling the issue delicately, sensitively and humanely. “It was because of his commitment that the suicide note of the deceased could be procured, which later turned out to be the crucial evidence in the case.”
Garg served in Madurai and Tirunelveli districts, where he took initiatives to enable Dalits to enter temples and prevented law and order situations. He created an environment of amity among all caste groups, the judge said.
Justice Singaravelu devoted an entire page in his report to appreciate the work of the SP and his team of officers. He said that “his role in dealing with the Dharmapuri violence was quite similar to the one the police officer Waltar Dewaram adopted against naxalites in the region then”.
Garg’s timely action prevented any loss of life during the arson in the three villages of Dharmapuri. Justice Singaravelu also congratulated both the police and the revenue officials. “Had they not handled it diligently, heavy loss of lives would have been reported. The commission congratulates all those investigation officers and other officials for their work,” he said.
A government source claimed that the commission’s report was voluminous, running into around 1,300 pages, with supportive materials such as witnesses’ depositions, documents and other reports. The commission examined some 150 witnesses, including Divya, her mother Thenmozhi, Elavarasan’s father, relatives and friends, and villagers, besides local political functionaries, and police and revenue officials.
Asra Garg told Frontline that Elavarasan’s death was quite unfortunate.
“Our status report filed before the Madras High Court would establish that the police had done an impartial job in this tragic incident. We had taken unbiased and conscious efforts to deal with the case sensitively and legally. In fact, we arrested around 140 persons in a span of five days after the caste violence. We even allowed lawyers and relatives [to be present] when the post-mortem was performed. Forensic experts of AIIMS also ruled out the possibility of homicide after detailed examination,” he said.
Speaking to Frontline , A. Kadir, executive director of Evidence, a Madurai-based Dalit rights non-government organisation, said that commissions of inquiry appointed by the state rarely rendered justice to the affected. “Since 1991, as many as 45 commissions have been instituted. They would be headed either by retired senior bureaucrats or retired judges. The majority of the rulings of these commissions had never supported the victims. It’s a huge waste of public money,” he said.
He insisted that civic society raise questions on whether such commissions of inquiry were needed at all. “Through an RTI application, we have received information that the Justice S.R. Singaravelu Commission spent a sum of Rs. 2.17 crore, of which staff wages alone amounted to Rs.1.98 crore,” he said.
Ramani of the Caste Annihilation Front, who is a close relative of Elavarasan, said that it had become an annual practice of the police to convert Elavarasan’s village into a fortress on the eve of his death anniversary. Very few people are allowed to pay homage to him. Even relatives are expected to pay homage at a specified time.
“We would not be allowed even to shed tears. It would be like a concentration camp,” she said, adding that the government was refusing permission to erect a memorial at his burial site.
These restrictions, she claimed, had already been set in motion in the village and nearby areas for this year too. Instead of harassing innocent people, the state and its police must stop the activities of “casteist forces” like the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), which exploited the Divya-Elavarasan marriage to polarise people, she added.
“Even today, inter-caste marriages between Dalits and Vanniyars are taking place, creating no tension in this region, which once was a fertile ground for the Marxist-Leninist movement. Both caste groups belong to the working class. But of late they are being exploited by vested interests,” she said.
Divya and her mother, who were targets of casteist slurs, have relocated to Dharmapuri town, where she works in a school.