Killing in the name of honour
Jaya Menon, TNN, Sep 20, 2010, 05.21am IST
A charred piece of earth and some bits of bones are the only signs of
a dastardly killing in the name of honour. No other evidence remains
of the spine-chilling crime to mar the rustic charm of Maalaipatti
village, perched among the green mountains of the Western Ghats in
Dindigul district. On July 28, 2008, a few days after being chained in
a bathroom and treated like a rabid dog outside her terraced house,
tortured and beaten up with a wooden log, young Sangeetha, barely
conscious, was burnt to death by her family members near a dry water
channel running through a field. The dalit youths, who were called to
conduct the last rites, recall in horror how the terrified, emaciated
girl had regained consciousness as the flames engulfed her, shouting
The village, in which the intermediate Naicker caste is the dominant
community, then purged itself the floors of the houses were scrubbed
clean with detergent and water, and the walls whitewashed. The local
Mariamman temple too got a fresh coat of paint. The village had
decreed that Sangeetha should die for bringing shame to her community
by eloping with a dalit boy from the village.
But police in the Vilampatti station, barely a km from the village,
claim ignorance about the incident. They have, in fact, "dropped
action" in the case. Vilampatti circle inspector, D Sakkarai says, "We
have closed the case. We found clear evidence that the girl had
committed suicide." Then why had relatives hurriedly cremated the body
without even informing the police? "Yes, that is the only unresolved
issue," he admits.
Sub-inspector, Geetha Devi of the Nilakkottai all-woman police
station, who had been instrumental in tracking the lovers, and getting
them back to their families, says, "If I had know that such a fate
awaited Sangeetha I would never have got them back to the village."
Even two years after the incident, scribes visiting the village are
viewed with suspicion and hostility. "The family has suffered enough,"
said a Maalaiaatti resident belonging to the intermediate Naicker
caste sullenly when asked about the incident. Residents in the colony
of dalits in neighbouring Ethilodu talk in hushed tones about how the
Naickers had conspired to kill the girl from their own community for
daring to elope with a dalit youth.
A couple of days before Sangeetha was burnt alive, allegedly by her
own family, Maalaipatti's dominant caste gathered in the square, not
in their own village but in Pullakaadupatti, a km or two away, to hold
court and decide how to purge the slur brought upon by the girl. It
did not take long for the elders, hardened by caste sentiments, to
arrive at a verdict. "They decided to kill the girl. They burnt her
alive," said a shocked N Kamalanathan, panchayat president of
Ethilodu, neighbouring Maalaipatti, shrugging helplessness. The youth,
K Balachander (20), whom Sangeetha wished to marry, hailed from
The shocking spectacle of caste leaders and elders holding kangaroo
courts, huddled in the mandhai' (a low-slung, tile-roofed structure)
in the village square and passing death verdicts on those who dare to
violate the caste diktat is nothing new in Tamil Nadu's rural areas.
"It is a custom so ingrained in the village system that few
dare to question it," says A Kathir of Evidence. "The parents of the
girls or boys who rebel and fall in love or marry out of caste are
blamed for the shame' brought on the village and in many cases, they
pressured to murder their errant' son or daughter or drive them to
"There are several such cases that take place, many of them are not
brought to our notice," admits P Murugadasan, inspector of the
Manamadurai (Sivaganga district) police station and investigating
another incident of honour killing, the Megala case.
"Though both Shiva and Megala were from the same caste, their marriage
was considered a dishonour for the family as the girl had been forced
to marry a relative a few days before she decided to elope with Shiva.
The family and relatives had hatched a plot to kill them both. It was
fortunate that Megala escaped," says T Manoharan (45), Shiva's uncle
"What's more shocking is the fact that the police turn a blind eye
when such killings take place. By turning their backs, they, in fact,
encourage such killings," says Chennai-based Daniel Selvakumar (29), a
dalit Christian, fighting for justice in the case of his wife's death.
Sathura (24), hailing from the Thevar community of Vadachery village
in Thanjavur had been lured by her family to come back home with the
promise that their marriage would be conducted according to Hindu
rituals. On March 23, Daniel was informed that his wife had committed
suicide. Police harassed the youth when he rushed to the village and
refused to allow him to even see his wife's body.
"I showed him pictures of her body. Her left ear had turned blue. We
are not sure if she poured poison into her ear herself or if someone
else did it," said then Thanjavur superintendent of police, now in
Chennai's cyber crime, G Sampath. EOM
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