Tamil Nadu

Kausalya Shankar: Standing tall

Print edition : April 27, 2018

Kausalya Shankar addressing a public hearing on honour killing organised by the NGO Evidence in Madurai on August 20, 2016. Photo: S. James

Chinnasamy, Kausalya’s father, at the court in Tiruppur on December 12, 2017, where he was awarded capital punishment.

IT has been two years since the 22-year-old Dalit man V. Shankar was murdered for marrying Kausalya, a 19-year-old girl belonging to the most backward caste of Agamudaiyar, by paid killers in broad daylight at a crowded place in Udumalpet town, Tiruppur district, Tamil Nadu.

Kausalya suffered multiple injuries in the assault on March 13, 2016, in which Shankar died on the spot. The cold-blooded act against the inter-caste couple shocked everyone, forcing the State to pursue the case conscientiously (Frontline, “In the name of honour”, April 15, 2016). With Kausalya standing resolute in the witness box and pointing fingers at her family for the crime, the case in the Tiruppur Sessions Court resulted in the conviction of six of the 11 accused, including Chinnasamy, her father, and the award of capital punishment (December 12, 2017).

She survived the post-traumatic phase of Shankar’s murder and her own prolonged hospitalisation to emerge as a strong “Dalit icon”, in the words of the Madurai-based Dalit activist Vincent Kadir. Kadir and his non-governmental organisation, Evidence, stood by her through the worst of times, providing legal, moral and psychological support.

Today, the frail-looking 21-year-old stands tall and has emerged as a strong crusader against caste-based atrocities. She is demanding special legislation for inter-caste marriage. Unlike other backward caste girls who withdrew into their shells in the face of intimidation before deserting their partners—as happened in the cases of the Dalit youths Elavarasan (Dharmapuri) and Gokulraj (Salem), both of whom are dead—Kausalya chose to fight back and is ready to take on any casteist force.

Dream task

After her triumphant act of retribution for her husband’s death, she has turned her attention to the annihilation of caste. She has integrated her social work with like-minded activist groups and started sharing platforms with those who endorse her understanding of caste and emancipation without, however, compromising her space to anyone. She said she had taken up her dream task of “making Tamil society casteless”, which would “ensure Tamils freedom”.

To provide traction to her cause, she floated the “Shankar Social Justice Trust” in Udumalpet on his second death anniversary at a function at which veteran Communist Party of India leader R. Nallakannu, former State secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) G. Ramakrishnan, Tamil Nadu Muslim Munnetra Kazhagam functionary Jawahirullah and other activists participated. The trust, she said, would strive towards the uplift of the marginalised and fight against caste oppression in any form.

Turning emotional on the stage, she said that the launch would be “the second birth” for her slain husband. She had a dream when she married him, of a life of contentment and love. Kausalya was clear about her vision. She said that many could have differences of opinion with her.

“But the collective objective of everyone, I hope, will be towards caste eradication. The social justice of Tamil society and caste eradication must have the same trajectory,” she said. “Had I been a coward, I would not have been Shankar’s wife. I am a granddaughter of Periyar,” she said.

Ilangovan Rajasekaran

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