Tuesday, July 20, 2010

[ZESTCaste] Caste shadows on love


Caste shadows on love

Gokul Vannan

First Published : 18 Jul 2010 10:30:00 AM IST

Last Updated : 16 Jul 2010 07:26:02 PM IST

"Brother, have you ever been in love?" Megala asks. "You will not
understand our love otherwise. It is special. Nobody in the world
would have loved like us," she says. "Can you see Shiva, my love? He
is right here, calling to me. Take me to Katti­kulam, I will end my
life at the same place where my father killed him," she wails, adding,
"even if you save my life, my relatives will murder me if I go back to
the village.''

Police, NGO and staff at the Rajaji government hospital in Madurai try
consoling her, but the 19-year-old is inconsolable after the murder of
Shiva Kumar on July 6 in Kattikulam, near Madurai.

Shiva Kumar, 26, from M Puttukulam was murdered by Megala's father
Vijayan and brother Prabakaran. Megala, who had been forced to marry a
man from her village some weeks earlier, had eloped with Shiva Kumar
(both from the Thevar community) to Pudukottai.

After a month-long search, Vijayan tracked them down and persuaded
them to return with him, promising they would live together.

"They stopped the auto we were travelling in at the periphery of the
village and separated us.

My father said we would be reunited in front of the village elders the
next morning,'' she says, between sobs, begging to be taken to the
spot where Shiva Kumar was killed.

Vijayan took Shiva but when he returned to his daughter, his shirt was
spotted with blood. Shocked, Megala asked where Shiva was. "In
response, he spat on my face, and abused me saying the family's honour
was lost because of me."

Megala tried to escape but was attacked by her relatives, leaving her
alive but grievously injured.

She is being treated at the GH while Vijayan and Prabakaran are behind
bars. Still, they warned her mother against visiting her in hospital.
She is being cared for by Evidence, a Madurai-based NGO working for
Dalit rights. Evidence's executive director A Kathir points out that
most victims of honour killings are women.

"My mother was the one who separated us. We'd been in love for the
past two years but despite knowing all this, my parents got me married
to another man," Megala says. "This has not ended with Shiva's murder.
Soon they will murder me. It is better that I kill myself."

In Kattikulam, there are still traces of blood at the spot where Shiva
Kumar was killed. Kudiyarashi, (27), the sister of Megala's husband
Kalidass, was seen grazing sheep near the spot. According to her, the
Kalidass-Megala wedding was organised on a grand scale with
politicians, businessmen, and caste members in attendance.

Vijayan's house is closed. Only his relatives remain in the village.
Krishnan, 70, a retired police constable from the same community said
the murder enabled Vijayan to regain lost prestige. "How could he walk
freely, with everyone taunting him about his daughter eloping with
another after her wedding? After the murder, everyone says he has
safeguarded the caste honour.''

Shiva Kumar's relatives disagree with this. "Caste honour doesn't
arise in this case. He was eligible to marry Megala, but just because
his economic status was lower, Vijayan opposed their relationship,''
says one of them. Warns another: ''Very soon you will hear of a
revenge killing from our side.''

The youngsters in the village feel that had Shiva Kumar belonged to a
lower caste, his murder would have been justified. "But murdering a
member of our own community has only brought disgrace.''

Her family burnt her alive

The case of Shiva Kumar is not an isolated one.

So-called honour killings seem to be the inevitable norm if caste is
involved. One of the most gruesome cases is the murder of Sangeetha,
19, from Malai­pattai. Her family burnt her alive for eloping with a
Dalit man in June 2008. Sangeetha, of the Kambalathu Nayakar
community, had fallen in love with K Balachandar of Eathilodu in
Nellakottai district.

"We fell in love while travelling on the same bus to college. We were
in love for nearly two years before her family found out about us.
They tortured her physically and mentally nearly for a year,'' recalls
Balachandar, who now works in Coimbatore.

Things came to a head when Sangeetha secretly visited Balachandar when
he had gone home on holiday. "She pleaded with me to take her away

because her folks would kill her otherwise," Balachandar says. The
couple eloped from the village.

"We were not aware of the relationship. Sangeetha's parents came to
our house and asked for their daughter. We promised that if our son
returned with the girl, we would hand her over,'' says Balachandar's
mother, K Leelavathi, a ward member of the Eathilodu local body at the

The young couple sought help from the local wings of Dalit parties
before contacting Leelavathi. Sangeetha pleaded with Balachandar's
parents not to send her back.

"We immediately contacted a sub-inspector in the Neelakottai women's
police station, a Dalit. She asked us to bring the couple to the
police, promising justice,'' Leelavathi remembers.

But she sent Sangeetha back to their parents. "Within days we received
news that Sangeetha was dead," says Leelavathi.

Villagers say the entire Nayakar community from more than 15 villages
came together for the decision. She was not only seen as bringing
dishonour to the community, her act was also considered an ill omen.
"They forced her to stay in the cattleshed. Then she was injected with
a drug. When they found she was still alive, they took her body to a
nearby farm and burnt her.''

Poovalingam of Pillaiyar Natham, a village close to Sangeetha's,
lashed out against the media, Dalit leaders, the police and other
officials who he alleges helped hide the truth. "We took media persons
to the spot and showed them Sangeetha's burning body. Everybody shot
video footage, but nothing appeared on the news channels or
newspapers. Dalit leaders visited and spoke furiously, but they too
were hand-in-glove with the authorities to hide the truth,'' he
recalls. It was not a question of caste here — the girl was burnt
alive, but nobody did anything about it.

Meanwhile, the Nayakar community had Sangeetha's ashes sprinkled on
the border of their villages and repainted their houses to keep away
evil spirits. When this reporter asked about Sangeetha in her village,
the standard reply was "she committed suicide" or "died of ill health.
Her parents moved to Nellakottai after the incident.

They hunted and killed him

Then there is the case of Sivaji, a Dalit. His widow Lakshmi, 28, is
struggling along with her one-and-half-year-old son Sivabalan. "My
husband asked me not to remove my thaali, even if he was killed. So I
continue to wear it in the hope that the culprits will be punished in
the court of law someday,'' she says.

The killers are her brother and other relatives, all Thevars, who did
not approve of her marriage to Sivaji, a Dalit activist. They fell in
love when she was in Class 12 in Aridhuvarmangalam, Thanjavur
district. "I didn't know he was a Dalit. When I did I was initially
hesitant,'' she says. To make matters worse, Sivaji and her brothers
had a long-standing feud.

When her family came to know, she eloped with Sivaji. They got married
at a temple in Dindigul. "Muthupandi, a Dalit leader in Dindigul gave
us protection. We stayed in one of his houses. However, my brothers
tracked us down," she says. On June 7, 2008, they kidnapped her
husband. "They caught me also but I managed to escape."

Lakshmi pleaded with her neighbours for help, to no avail. She tried
contacting Muthupandi repeatedly but he didn't take her call. "In a
few hours, I heard that my brothers had murdered my husband,'' she
says. "Now, they're out on bail and want to kill me and my son too."

"A few months ago they called the panchayat office, threatening to
kill me. Before that, they tried to catch me when I went to the field
for work." But instead of arresting them the police filed a false
complaint against her husband's brothers and remanded them, she says.
"I have no income, no protection from the government, how long can I
lead such a life?"

Elder brother P Subramanian, 47, of Irukarai den­ies the accusation.
He said Lakshmi's marriage had dishonoured the entire family. "Who
will marry my other two sisters? In our community, caste is very
important. If anyone in our community marries even a member of a
backward community, the rest will treat us as outcasts."

He says the problem with Sivaji's family was more complex. The police
played on the feud to make money. "When we lodged a missing persons
complaint about our sister, they didn't bother to trace her."

"When we heard that Muthupandi was protecting the couple, we met him
through our caste leaders and asked him to hand Lakshmi over to us.
But he started demanding money. We were willing to pay him up to Rs
75,000, but each day he increased the amount," he claims.

"We traced them on our own after months of searching, which ultimately
resulted in a murder. What were police doing all that time? If they
had acted swiftly, the death could have prevented."

"We are willing to take her back, but she will not be allowed into the
house. That would affect the prospects of our other sisters," he
claims, avoiding the issue of baby Sivabalan.

Foeticide and house arrest

R Muthazhalagan, 23, a Dalit graduate of Aathukaripatti, Pudukottai,
is another man who will never see his child. On November 21, 2008, his
wife Dhanalakshmi of Anbukovil village near Alangudi eight months
pregnant, was forced to have an abortion because she married
Muthazhalagan against her family's wishes.

"Her relatives took her home, saying her mother was not well. Then, in
a private hospital, they aborted the baby." That was the last time
Dhanalakshmi spoke to him — calling from hospital to tell him of the

"Since then her parents have locked her up in the house and
brainwashed her, to the extent that in open court she alleged that I
am an alcoholic and that I beat her."

Muthazhalagan now lives with his widowed mother and is studying for
his BEd. He has spent huge sums on his case in court but is unwilling
to marry again. He still hopes that someday Dhanalakshmi will return.

Set up to take a fall

R Karunanidhi of Kakaiyakon Street, Karabakudi tells how being a woman
can be worse than being Dalit. Ten years ago, he eloped with Anandhi
from the same village. She belonged to a higher caste. But theirs was
no straightforward love story. Anandhi's father first had Karunanidhi
take her to the hospital on his two-wheeler once when she was ill.

"My enemies made use of the opportunity and told her parents that we
were in love." Palani, Anandhi's brother-in-law, whose sexual advances
she had rejected, added fuel to the fire. "He blew the issue out of
proportion and insulted Anandhi in front of other community members."

Anandhi tried to defend herself, asking her parents how she would ever
fall for a person from a lower caste, but Palani wouldn't let her

"It was when her family made the decision to kill me that she realised
how men from dominant castes used the system to achieve their ends.
That was when she fell in love with me. Later we both ran away from
the village."

Both took shelter with a Dalit leader but he took money from Anandhi's
family to hand them over though Karunanidhi warned they would kill
her. "She was sent to her parents. In a few days, she was dead,
murdered by her family."

Since her death in 2000, Anandhi has become a deity for Karunanidhi's
family. He has since married Kavitha, a caste Hindu, deserted by her
family over a property dispute. Kavitha (name changed), knows of her
husband's first marriage and sees Anandhi as her elder sister. "My
husband and I pray to her everyday to help us overcome our
difficulties in life,'' Kavitha says.

Kavitha is not safe either. She told her father she had married a
caste Hindu. "If my brother finds out I have married a Dalit, he will
stop at nothing to separate us."



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