ON 5 AUGUST, Union Home Minister P Chidambaram decried the tide of honour killings in north India and promised legislation to prevent the dishonour such murders bring to the nation. Just a month before that, in his own constituency, Sivaganga, a father salvaged his ‘honour’ by killing his daughter’s lover and brutally attacking the girl. Yet, the Supreme Court’s 21 June notice on honour killings to seven states did not include Tamil Nadu. In the past three months alone, seven honour killings and suicides have taken place, with the involvement of the ooru or village panchayats.
Not all killings are about same subcaste marriages. Some are about untouchability too
TEHELKA travelled to remote parts of Sivaganga district to unearth the story of distant relatives Meghala and Sivakumar. Meghala, 19, who was married against her wishes, decided to elope with Sivakumar to Pudukottai, about 150 km from her village. Her father, Vijayan, convinced the lovers to return, promising to formalise their alliance. A promise that was never meant to be kept. In her statement to the police, Meghala says that her father and his friends stabbed Sivakumar and assaulted her. While Sivakumar succumbed to his injuries, Meghala was hospitalised in Chennai.
Her father is not repentant though. If anything, he is furious with Meghala. “How can she want to marry someone who is like her brother?” he barks. Meghala does not have the sympathy of Sivakumar’s relatives either. Sabari Rajan, Sivakumar’s brother, says, “The girl is the one who deserved to be killed.” They believe that Meghala persuaded Sivakumar to elope. According to P Murugadasson, the investigating officer at Manamadurai Police Station, no one from the village is willing to testify in court as they all belong to the same community.
UNLIKE THE khap panchayats of Haryana, not all honour killings decried byooru panchayats are about same sub-caste marriages. In Pullakkadupatti village of Dindigul district, it is about untouchability. Two years ago, the body of Sangeetha, an 18-year-old girl, was found in a canal. The Naikar girl had fallen in love with a Dalit boy, Balachandar. The Naikars whitewashed their temple after Sangeetha’s murder to ‘purify’ her sin. Balachandar’s mother alleges that the police too were party to the murder. “Sangeetha had appealed to them not to let her parents take her away. However, the police compelled her to go. Three days later, she was found dead in mysterious circumstances. The police passed it off as suicide,” she says. Sangeetha’s parents, still reeling under the shock caused by the loss of their ‘honour’, are mute.
There are 76 sub-castes under the Scheduled Caste category in the state and more than 200 communities under the Backward Class (BC) category. K Mahendran, the Dalit MLA from the CPM representing Perambur constituency, explains, “Since the 1960s, the Dravidian parties in the state have been dominated by the BCs, who comprise 70 percent of the state’s population. BCs benefited largely in terms of economy and education. But Dalits, who comprise 22 percent of the population, fell behind. Now BCs dominate Dalits in every sphere of society.”
“In 7,000 villages of Tamil Nadu, untouchability still exists in numerous forms,” says K Samuel Raj, General Secretary of the Tamil Nadu Untouchability Eradication Front. “It has been happening for a long time, just that the media has woken up to it only recently.”
In another case in Dindigul district in 2008, Sivaji, a 35-year-old Dalit, was murdered by the brother of his non-Dalit wife, Laxmi, 29, for daring to elope. Laxmi and her one-and-half-year-old son now live with her mother-in-law and brother-in-law, and face threats daily. “The police did not take any action on my complaint,” she says. “The inspector is from my brother’s community.”
Kathir of Madurai-based non-governmental organisation, Evidence, which tracks cases of honour killings, says all suspicious murders of women in the state should be subjected to judicial inquiry.
Like the murder of Thankalakshmi in J-Mettur village of Dindigul district this April. The girl, who belonged to the Kallar (non-Dalit) community, had eloped with Vinoth Kumar, a Dalit. They were dragged back home by the girl’s parents. “A caste panchayat was convened, to which the boy’s parents were invited so that they could be humiliated,” says Muthamma, the boy’s grandmother.
As TEHELKA found, the attitude of the police too is lax. SS Krishnamurthy, IGP, south zone, refused to comment on individual cases. “The south zone is very caste sensitive,” is all he says.
Analysing the data collected from 22 districts in the state through RTI, Evidence found that out of the 1,971 cases of women’s suicides from January 2008 to June this year, 90 percent of the victims were aged under 30. “Many of these cases could be in the name of honour, or they could even be honour killings passed off as suicides,” says Kathir.
Take the case of Daniel Selvakumar (29), a Chennai-based customer care executive. The Dalit Christian married a non-Dalit girl, Sathura, in 2008. Sathura’s relatives managed to convince her to return to them, only to keep her under house arrest. The couple kept in touch through SMSes. Her last message, before poison was poured into her ear, read, “Come and take me,da.”
In two years, 1,971 women killed themselves in TN. Many could be ‘honour deaths’
There is a risk that ‘honour’ will became a prestigious peg to justify other crimes, as in the case of the man from Tiruvannamalai in Virudhunagar district, who is trying to justify the killing of his daughter, Rajanilatha, a Class IX student, as an ‘honour killing’. But her mother, Muthulakshmi, says the girl was killed for questioning her father’s illicit relationship with another woman. “Appa (father) also tried to pour poison down our throats,” say her siblings.
S Muthukumar, the inspector in-charge of the case, says, “The man thinks that he won’t be labelled a cruel father in his village if he can prove that he killed his daughter to protect his family’s honour.”
At this rate, there won’t be any honour left to fight for in the state.