15, Dec 2017 | Vidya Bhushan Rawat
On December 13, the Tirupur Principal District and Sessions Judge Alamelu Natarajan pronounced death penalty for six accused convicted in V Shankar murder case last year in Coimbatore. This includes the father of Kausalya and other conspirators. Her mother and distant uncle have been acquitted. It is, perhaps, the first case where a judge has handed out exemplary punishment to six persons of capital punishment in a case of ‘dis-honoured killing’. If the higher judiciary upholds the verdict, a strong message will be sent across the country.*
Of course, people like us have opposed the death penalty. We as a society need also to work on changing societal mind-sets that allow such crimes to be committed. Yet, such a verdict from constitutional authorities to the perpetrators of such heinous crimes is significant. The crucial point is that the struggle of 20-year old Kausalya for more justice –she has now decided to appeal against the acquittal of her mother and uncles– for the brutal murder of her husband, needs our support.
It was a case of a ‘dis-honored killing’. Kausalya’s parents objected to her relationship with Shankar, a young engineer belonging to the Dalit community. Her family was aware that the couple, Shankar and Kausalya, had been married for eight months prior to the attack on them. All efforts to separate them had failed, after which an entire conspiracy to eliminate them was hatched, and executed by her family.
Tamil Nadu Turns Its Back on Periyar
Tamil Nadu is the land of Periyar and the self respect movement. Today, however, we do not even find the shadow of that self respect evident among the population. The entire Dravidian identity issue evaporates when there are cases of inter caste friendships and relationships. The violence against Dalits in the name of ‘honour’ has been reported widely in the Tamil media. In fact, after the demise of Periyar, we have not found the political class speaking up eloquently and strongly against caste atrocities and the varna system in Tamilnadu. The compromise of the
Dravidian parties with power and wealth have actually diluted the anti caste, progressive agenda in Tamilnadu. This is one of the reasons why a caste/community like that of the Devendra Kuru Vellalar today wants to get delisted from Scheduled Caste (SC) category and be listed as an OBC.
Why has the situation come to this point when the most powerful communities in Tamilnadu want to dissociate with Dalits ? If any association with Dalits stigmatises people and isolates them further, surely then, this must be seen as a crucial failing of the Dravidian movement, which formally at least, reveres Periyar. Newspapers reporting even on this case reflect this regressive trend. They speak of the ‘pride’ of the Kausalya family in belonging to a higher caste, and report (without comment) their outrage at her marrying a ‘lower caste’ boy. Now the family even suggests that they should have taught her (Kausalya) the ‘importance’ of caste and of her (as a woman) remaining inside the ‘boundaries’ of her caste and gender. There appears to be no remorse about the fact that they killed their daughter’s love. Her father was a taxi driver who first tried to scuttle the marriage with Shankar by offering him a pay-off of ten lakh rupees. This did not work. Unfortunately these parents put their caste pride above all else and later even killed
their son-in- law for it.
Periyar spoke against Brahmanism. He did not confine himself to just condemning the Brahmins but provided an alternative. His self respect marriages were nothing short of a revolution. The subsequent degradation of Dravidian parties, who equated emancipation as simply ‘one’ caste grabbing power –and not a battle of egalitarianism and dignity — resulted in the complete isolation of communities from each other. I have not observed any attempt by the Dravidian parties to fight against the social evil of ‘dis-honoured killings.’ In fact, the proponents of Hindutva (a militarised and politicised Hinduism) have been working surreptitiously among these castes/communities egging on caste differences to their benefit.
Hindutva as Brahmanism
Many of our friends says that Hindutva will have no place in Kerala, Andhra, Telangana, Tamilnadu as these are ‘radical’ areas but they forget that using caste contradiction is the best guarantee for the growth of Brahmanical forces which needs to consolidate and re-assert to survive. Brahmanism will now be enforced by those who are its worst victims. So, whether BJP or Hindutva are directly present in the southern states or not, severe caste
contradictions and an over-emphasis on religion will ultimately dilute and destroy the great legacy of the Dravidian movement. For decades, Dravidian parties have been status quo-ist: not leading any anti-caste movement, not spear-heading any charge against the scourge of untouchability. In this bleak failure of and political parties, isn’t it time to strengthen Ambedkarite movement in Tamilnadu?
Kausalya, An Icon
Kausalya is just 20 years old and the maturity and commitment displayed by her was revealed in this battle for justice for her murdered husband Shankar. It is remarkable. A girl who has persistently asked for death penalty for her parents, blaming them for being the real perpetrators behind the criminal act. A young girl who decided to leave her parents and stay with the parents of Shankar, her in laws, and take care of them. This is what I would call the enormous strength of love. A love that transcends both caste and religious boundaries. Yes, amidst all the pressure and personal grief, a young woman stands tall with deep convictions. We need to stand with her.
Kausalya was transformed into an activist. She has learned to play the traditional Parai drum, a cultural symbol of the community that Shankar belonged to. She is now speaking up for annihilation of caste. She has come to become a leading light of the movement against caste system in Tamil Nadu. She inspires us because in a number of cases where the parents of the powerful castes file cases of abduction against the boys who are Dalits, young women are later forced to retract their stance. In many cases, the parents get their daughters married elsewhere. This case stands tall and apart because of Kausalya’s enormous strength. Fighting against an ‘enemy’ is easier than fighting
against your own. This unleashes its own pain.
Kausalya left her parents and maternal home. She stayed on in her marital home even after Shankar was brutally murdered, with Shankar’s parents and took care of them. She continues to fight against her parents because of their indefensible acts. Kausalya today stands like a beacon of hope and resistance. Through this struggle she had her
personal moments of pains and depression. She rose above these, making her personal the political. Her moment of personal loss and grief became the pivot of radical change. She has therefore the potential to re-ignite the Ambedkarite movement in Tamil Nadu Baba Saheb Ambedkar and Thanti Periyar provided democratic alternatives to the people. It is time we stand up with those values and save our children. Kausalya symbolises a powerful
young, woman’s voice against caste discrimination. Her battle is against hate crime based on caste. For now, we salute her for the tremendous courage she has shown in her struggle and extend our solidarity with her fight for justice.
* CJP stands against the death penalty.