Sunday, January 29, 2012

[ZESTCaste] Who killed Suvarna?

Who killed Suvarna?
Johnson T A Posted: Jan 29, 2012 at 0326 hrs
Bangalore School girls in bright red uniforms troop down the slope in
groups of threes and fours in Koppa, the fertile sugarcane town in
southern Karnataka's agricultural district of Mandya. A teenage boy on
a motorcycle does the dim-and-dip with his headlights, the equivalent
of a wink, as he passes the girls on his way up the slope in what
seems to be a strut on a motorcycle.

"Television and mobile phones have ruined our children," says
55-year-old Chanappa, a sugarcane farmer who has hitched a 14-km ride
with me to Koppa from the highway. Through the ride, Chanappa refuses
to get drawn into any conversation relating to the November 6, 2011
death of Suvarna Ramakrishna, a 20-year-old Vokkaliga girl in
Abalavadi village, two km from Koppa town.

Chanappa, a Vokkaliga, knows about the death and is willing to point
me in the direction of Abalavadi but won't talk about what he has
heard about the death of Suvarna, daughter of a former Abalavadi
headman and local leader Davalana Ramakrishna.

Love and romance are not good words these days in Mandya despite the
mass of images they bring to life through cinema and the media. Caught
in the 120-km cleft between the modern Karnataka cities of Bangalore
and Mysore, the district of Mandya and its people continue to cope
with a feudal mindset and caste hierarchies even as their youth
attempt feebly to break out.

Every month, there are dozens of cases of couples approaching the
district police for protection against their family members, says
Mandya's young superintendent of police Kaushalendra Kumar. A week
ago, he says, the family of a girl engaged to be married burnt down
the house of a boy she was in a relationship with after the boy sent
an SMS to the parents professing his love and claiming her hand in
marriage. "It was a same caste relationship," he says.

What happened in Abalavadi village on November 6, 2011 is, however, a
far cry from what has ever been reported in recent times from

Two months after she died, under what was until now considered to be a
case of suicide, the case that emerges is that of an honour killing,
with Suvarna's father and her extended family allegedly killing her
for her insistence on marrying Govindaraju, a 25-year-old who belongs
to the Scheduled Caste of Madigas.

The lid was blown off on January 5 when Govindaraju's family, who was
on the run after Suvarna's death, filed an FIR with the police naming
the girl's father and members of her extended family.

The Koppa and Mandya police who bought into the suicide story earlier
have now found prima facie evidence to show that there was a murder on
November 6, 2011 and not a suicide. "We have witnesses and we have
some of the remains of the body. Prima facie it does seem like a case
of murder," says the Mandya superintendent of police.


The Vokkaligas, land owners and the dominant community in Mandya
region, are by nature feudal, rustic, hot headed and in-your-face.
Beneath the veneer of coarseness, most people are simple too.
Suvarna's father, Davalana Ramakrishna, 46, according to descriptions
provided by people in Abalavadi, was the archetypal Vokkaliga—proud,
upwardly mobile, one of the 12 village wise men, a large landholder
who held the right to kick-start pujas at the temple on festival days
and a leader of the local unit of the Janata Dal Secular, considered
the political party of the Vokkaligas. "Davalana is a feared man in
the village, an authority and a landlord. He had two children, both of
whom are gone now. A son committed suicide a couple of years ago when
he was 18 after a fight with the father and Suvarna died last year,"
says a resident of the village.

Villagers say Davalana doted on Suvarna. "She was a quiet girl who
kept to herself. She was mostly home-bound. Just a few days before her
death, she was engaged to a Vokkaliga boy from another village. They
were to marry 15 days later. We don't know the details of what
happened after that. We heard she was seen with a Dalit boy," says
Narasimhachar, an Abalavadi resident and gram panchayat member.

According to details pieced together from various accounts of what
happened at Abalavadi on November 6, it seems that Suvarna had been in
love since her high school days with Govindaraju, who worked in the
village and lived in a Dalit colony.

Around August 2011, the families of both Suvarna and Govindaraju seem
to have got wind of their affair and while Suvarna was pulled out of
college by her father, Govindaraju was sent away to work in another
village by his older brother K Thimappa. Davalana also arranged for
her marriage to a Vokkaliga boy from a neighbouring village .

The story goes that Suvarna set up a rendezvous with Govindaraju at a
public spot a little outside the village on the afternoon of November
6 to plan an elopement but was spotted by her fiancé who alerted her
father and his family.

According to the police complaint filed by Govindaraju's brother
Thimappa on January 5 this year, Suvarna's family dragged the boy and
the girl back to Abalavadi village from their rendezvous point at
Arasinagere gate.

According to the FIR, Suvarna was taken to the house of one of
Davalana's relatives, Lallegowda, and thrashed there while Govindaraju
was sent back to his home after a beating, only to be dragged to
Lallegowda's house.

While she was being beaten up, Suvarna insisted that she would only
marry Govindaraju and that it was she who wanted to meet him that day,
Govindaraju told the police in a statement last week when he briefly
emerged out of hiding. An enraged Davalana, according to the police
complaint, directed his relatives to "hang this girl who is insistent
on marrying a Madiga".

Police investigators say they believe Suvarna probably died after the
thrashing from her father at her relative's house but her body was
dragged to Govindaraju's house and strung up on a rope to make it seem
like a suicide in the lover's home.

Govindaraju, who was kept waiting outside his house while Suvarna's
body was being strung up, says he feared he would be next and fled,
leaving his mother and two sisters-in-law behind as witnesses.

"Suvarna and I were in love but our families were opposed to it due to
our castes. I am a Dalit and she is a Gowda. Her parents got her
engaged. She had my phone number and kept calling me, asking me to
elope with her. She said she wanted to see me just once and I agreed,"
Govindaraju said in his statement to the police.

Police investigations have revealed that Suvarna's body was cremated
in the village under the cover of darkness on the evening of November
6. The story that went out said she had committed suicide.

According to the police complaint filed by Govindaraju's brother on
January 5, Davalana and his family "threatened to burn down houses and
to kill anybody who dared to speak the truth about his daughter's


Despite the turn of events, Abalavadi and its majority Vokkaliga
community remain in denial.

"There was no affair between Davalana Ramakrishna's daughter and the
Madiga boy. She did not die at the boy's house. She committed suicide
at her home that day because she was suffering from stomach cramps.
Davalana was in Bangalore that day and they had to wait for him to
return for the cremation, that's why it was done after dark," says
Thimaraju, 48, a local farmer. "Those Madiga boys were contract
farming on two plots of land in the village and ran up debts. That's
why they ran away from the village," he says.

"It is Davalana who is suffering. He lost a son, then his daughter and
is now on the run. His wife Latha has fallen ill after the daughter's
suicide and has gone back to her home," says Thimmesh, another
resident of Abalavadi.

"All other castes have good relationships with each other but the
Madigas behave differently and have strained ties with the Vokkaligas
because they borrow money and don't pay back. They are into these love
affairs," says Narasimhachar, the panchayat member.

What has encouraged Govindaraju and his family to speak out is the
support of the local unit of the Bahujan Samajwadi Party and its
leader M Krishnamurthy.

So far, the police have arrested eight of the 10 family members of
Davalana named in the complaint filed on January 5. They include two
of Davalana's brothers and their sons. Davalana is still on the run.

"We are asking everyone to surrender because the episode is affecting
the village," says Thimaraju. Govindaraju and his family, including
his mother and two sisters-in-law who are the main witnesses to
Suvarna's death, have been living undercover since the killing. They
too appeared briefly before the police to record their statements.

Amid complaints that the police are going slow in their investigations
in the case because Home Minister R Ashok is also a Vokkaliga, the
minister has assured effective investigations.


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