Honour killings endorsed by khap panchayats of Punjab and Haryana and the ālove jihadā controversy have streaked through national consciousness. But a series of honour killings in Tamil Nadu have cartwheeled through local media outlets but stayed determinedly out of the national limelight. And these share the same noxious intertwining of inimical communities and their visceral animosities at the bottom of the Hindu social hierarchy. The honour killings in Tamil Nadu are primarily a fight between backward castes and the Dalits.
On 11 December 2014, Keelamaruthu village in Thiruvarur district woke up to a ghastly sight. Somebody found an adult male torso in a paddy field in Vedanadapuram area of the village, sending everybody into nauseous tizzy.
The police eventually found the head of the unfortunate 32-year-old man, Palaniappan, nearby. They also found the body of a 28-year-old woman, Amirthavalli, a Dalit from the Pallar community and nurse at the General Hospital in Tanjavur, on the banks of Harishchandra river, about 3 km away from where the decapitated body of Palaniappan was found. A few days later, the police fished out the body of a 38-day-old infant from the river.
It was Amirthavalliās father Ganeshan, a resident of Keelamaruthu, who first identified the body of Palaniappan, a member of the Vanniar community.
The couple, aware of the opprobrium their union might evoke, had moved to Madurai from Keelamaruthu village, where they first met and fell in love. Amirthavalli had given birth to their first born a little over a month ago when she got news that her mother was unwell. She rushed with her husband and baby to meet her mother. They were waylaid and brutally butchered by Palaniappanās brothers Mahendran and Shiva Subramanyian with two other Vanniar men.
In early October, 20-year-old Vimaladevi from Usilampatti in Madurai district was found dead in mysterious circumstances. The girl from the Thevar community had married a Dalit man, Dileep Kumar, 22, who used to be the driver of the autorickshaw that ferried her to the college and back. They fell in love, feared for their lives and, in mid-July last year, ran away to Kerala to escape the wrath of the girlās parents.
Vimaladeviās parents filed a kidnapping case against Kumar claiming their daughter was underage. They used political pressure and the couple was sent back to Usilampatti by the Kerala Police. Kumar, who has been in hiding since, met Tehelka and said that the local MLA was involved in separating him from his wife.
āPV Kathiravan, the local MLA, snatched the wedding chain from Vimaladevi and coerced her to go back to her parents,ā he said.
Vimaladeviās parents arranged her marriage with Satheesh without her consent. According to the police, on 23 September, Vimaladevi convinced Satheesh to buy clothes for the wedding from Bathlagundu, where she had a rendezvous with her husband Kumar. But their meeting sparked an altercation and the police intervened. The Bathlagundu police sent her to a government womenās home at Oomachikulam in Madurai.
On 27 September, Sub-Inspector Anandhi took the girl from the home and brought her to the police station where Kumar and her parents were present. Anandhi ordered them leave the station in an auto despite Kumarās pleadings not to send them out. On the way, he was attacked and thrown out of the auto and Vimaladevi was abducted.
On 4 October, Vimaladevi was found dead by hanging and her parents cremated her without informing the police.
āI complained to the district collector and the superintendent of police of both Madurai and Dindigul districts to hand over Vimaladevi from illegal confinement,ā said Kumar. āMy wife was murdered by her parents for refusing to marry someone of their choice.ā
The village administrative officer filed a complaint with the Usilampatti town police, who first registered a case of suspicious death and charged Vimaladeviās parents and relatives for destruction of evidence. Later, it was altered to a case of abetment of suicide and eight persons, including the girlās parents, P Veeranan, 48, and Thenammal, 35, were arrested.
Honour killings have been long and widely held to be the preserve of the feudal communities of north India.
In its observations made while proposing a legal framework to prevent honour killings in 2012, the Union Law Commission noted, āAs far as India is concerned, āhonour killingsā are mostly reported from the states of Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. Bhagalpur in Bihar is also one of the known places for honour killings. Even some incidents are reported from Delhi and Tamil Nadu.ā
āThere are no specific studies done on this issue mainly because honour killings were passed off asĀ caste-based violence or part of caste-based violence,ā says Jaishankar Karuppannan, senior assistant professor in Criminology and Criminal Justice at the Manonmaniam Sundaranar University in Tirunelveli. āSo, it is difficult to give any statistics in this regard. Unlike the past, more and more cases are getting reported these days mainly due to the conscious efforts of some organisations and human rights activists.ā
Another fallout of these legal blinkers is that women suffer the most. The State Crime Records Bureau (SCRB) says as many as 6,179 women committed suicide in Tamil Nadu in 2012. The same year, 662 women were murdered, in which 198 were in the age group of 19 to 30. Some of the murders and suicide of women in the age group of 19 to 30 are suspected to be honour killings. A request to the SCRB for the latest data was ignored.
āWomen being the repository of honour as daughter, wife and mother, the sordid tales of honour killings get hushed up here, especially in the southern districts of Tamil Nadu, very often in connivance with the police and local administration,ā says Lenin Kumar, an independent human rights activist from southern Tamil Nadu who has researched the issue for several years.
While transferring Vimaladeviās case to the CBI, Justice V Ramasubramanian of the Madras High Court observed, āIn the light of the facts pleaded and disclosed from the files, it is clear, at least prima facie, that the death of Vimaladevi is a case of honour killing. But the investigation team had not brought this out deliberately. On the other hand, the team had manipulated the records and come out with different stories so as to save their own officers. Hence I am of the opinion that the investigation cannot be left in the hands of the officers under the Tamil Nadu Director General of Police.ā
Some of these romances across caste lines begin with the innocence of Malgudi Days. Aruna, a 19-year-old upper-caste Hindu girl from Narippayur, fell in love with a tailor named Nagaraj, 30, from the nearby town of Sayalkkudi, who stitched her clothes. Both towns are located in Ramanathapuram district.
āI used to stitch Arunaās dresses, which were sent to me through a friend. We exchanged phone numbers, fell in love and got married on 12 October 2014 at the Ishakthi Amman temple in Bilathikulam and stayed at a lodge in nearby Pudhur town,ā says Nagaraj of his brief romance and briefer marriage.
The girlās parents filed a missing-person complaint with the police. Accompanied by Soorankudi panchayat president Selvaraj and some of Nagrajās relatives, the couple surrendered at the police station, from where Arunaās parents took her home kicking and screaming.
By 19 October, Aruna was dead and cremated. The parents said the girl had consumed Harpic, a popular over-the-counter toilet cleaner, containing about 10 percent hydrochloric acid besides butyl olemine and other chemicals. It does not kill even if taken internally.
āArunaās family informed that she consumed Harpic and needed medication,ā the doctor who attended to Aruna told Tehelka on the condition of anonymity. āWhen asked to admit the patient, they declined, saying her stomach was washed at home and persuaded me to prescribe antacids. And after medication, she went back home walking.ā