IT is a heart-wrenching tale of a couple in love that ended with the death of the boy, in the arid land of Dharmapuri district in Tamil Nadu. Elango Elavarasan, a Dalit youth, married his neighbour Nagraj Divya, who hails from the Vanniyar community, in Naikkankottai village in October last year and created a storm, both politically and socially.
On July 3, his wife “abandoned” him, and the next day he was found dead near the railway track in Dharmapuri town.
The Railway Police said the young man could have committed suicide, probably by jumping before a speeding train. They registered a case of suspicious death under Section 174 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC). However, Dalit outfits and activists alleged that it was murder. A huge crowd gathered on the premises of the Dharmapuri Government Hospital, where the youth’s body was kept, even as prohibitory orders under Section 144 of the CrPC were promulgated in the district.
The youth’s tragic end prompted a wave of rage against Vanniyar caste leaders, who had stalked the two youngsters, and the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), a political party with its base among Vanniyars, which campaigned against inter-caste marriages, especially involving Dalits.
The couple’s story had the makings of a Shakespearian tragedy. They eloped in mid-October last year and the girl’s father, Nagraj, committed suicide on November 7, apparently because he could not safeguard his caste honour. This triggered widespread arson and looting in three Dalit colonies of Natham, Anna Nagar and Kondampatti in Naikkankottai village (“Caste fury”, Frontline, December 14, 2012).
Despite all this, the couple stayed together for nine months. They were on the run from a few caste-based outfits after their “unregistered marriage” in October 2012 and from an overzealous section of the media, which would track them down for juicy stories.
In fact, Elavarasan told Frontline in Chennai recently that he would blame the media, besides the caste groups, for “trespassing” into their life. “It [media] could have played a positive role instead of dramatising our troubled life,” he said.
The couple ultimately yielded to pressure, with the girl showing signs of cracking. “Divya’s mother, Thenmozhi, came to our house in Dharmapuri this January and promised us that all would be fine. We believed her and let our daughter-in-law go with her for a brief stay,” said Elavarasan’s mother. His family understood the real intention of Thenmozhi’s visit only when they were informed of the filing of a habeas corpus petition by Thenmozhi in March in the Madras High Court, accusing Elavarasan and his family of “abducting” her daughter.
Elavarasan and his family then realised that the relationship was breaking up. The mortal blow was delivered on June 7 when Divya, appearing before the court, said she was “in a highly disturbed state of mind” following her father’s suicide and the violence that followed and hence wished to stay with her mother.
Until then, Elavarasan seemed confident that she would not desert him. “If I get a chance to meet her, I can convince her,” he had claimed. However, he secretly feared that in the pressure-cooker-like situation, she might cave in.
His fears came true on July 3. Divya categorically told the judges in the High Court that she would like to remain with her mother. She told the waiting media that she no longer wished to live with Elavarasan, signalling the break-up of their marriage, something the caste outfits wished for. She would like to pursue her college studies, she added.
“This statement of hers scarred him the most. We gave him moral and psychological support from that day,” said his father, T. Elango. Elavarasan, too, seemed to have regained his composure and had even promised his parents to look for a job. “Let her go. She does not deserve us,” he had told them before leaving for Dharmapuri town.
Later, his body was found, with his motorbike parked a few feet away from the railway track. His backpack contained three letters that Divya had written to him. His death whipped up an emotive and frenzied backlash from all sections. Activists blamed the caste leaders and the PMK for the tragedy. D. Ravikumar, a former MLA of the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK), a party supported by Dalits, claimed that the death had given rise to serious doubts and demanded an inquiry by a sitting High Court judge.
He wanted the Tamil Nadu government to take direct charge of the security of Divya, her mother and her younger brother. “They should be moved away from the village where their caste people live and should be housed in a government-run home,” he demanded.
Brinda Karat, Polit Bureau member of the CPI (M), termed it a “very, very sad incident”. Caste organisations and their thinking, she said, had destroyed two young people’s lives. “These forces whipped up hatred against the two and wrote the final chapter on the sordid episode, forcing the young boy to commit suicide,” she said.
P. Sampath, State convener, Tamil Nadu Untouchability Eradication Front, demanded a detailed inquiry into the death. “His tragic end shows how these caste elements sow seeds of hatred in society. Tamil Nadu remains shaken and all democratic and secular forces are wounded,” he said. The Front sought an inquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation and asked the State government to rescue Divya from the clutches of caste elements. It accused the local police of not providing security to Elavarasan and his family.