The recent murder of a Dalit engineering graduate Gokul Raj in Namakkal, has taken the number of honour killings in Tamil Nadu this year to an appalling figure of 16. Gokul was beheaded and his private parts were cut off. The state government has been in a state of denial about the situation.
Earlier this year, the then chief minister of Tamil Nadu O Panneerselvam denied the occurrence of ‘honour killing’ in the state. While making such a statement, Panneerselvam conveniently forgot that 44 cases of honour killings were reported in the state in 2013 and 2014. When confronted with the statistics, the shrewd politician termed them as suicides.
Tamil Nadu, according to statistics, has even surpassed Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, the two states which have earned the dubious distinction of being honour killing capitals of the country. Panneerselvam, who later relinquished the post to his mentor J Jayalalithaa, also dismissed the need of a separate legislation to prevent such murders although as many as 22 other states and union territories have demanded it from the Centre.
Anti-Dalit sentiment is growing in the state with various casteist leaders belonging to Vanniyar community in the northern region, Thevar and Nadar community in the southern region and Gounder community in the western region dominating the discourse. These leaders are fast undermining the ideology of the state’s famous anti-caste crusader, Periyar.
In stark contrast to the stand taken by the Tamil Nadu government, National Commission for Scheduled Castes (ncsc) Chairman PL Punia described the situation of Dalits in the state as “unsatisfactory”. He pointed out that Tamil Nadu is among the top five states in the country where a high number of cases of atrocities against Dalits are filed, with a majority of them being closed, citing lack of evidence. He said that cases such as the death of Gokul should not be treated as mere cases of murder.
The tacit silence maintained by the Dravidian parties emboldens the atrocities against Dalits by various dominant caste (OBC) movements in the state. With Gokul Raj’s murder, honour killings, once seen as a menace only in the southern regions of Tamil Nadu, are now threatening to be a feature in other parts of the state as well, especially in the Kongu region in the west. The reason for the perceived calm in the region is that Arundhatiyars (most backward among Dalits) are heavily oppressed by the Gounders, leaving no question of retaliation unlike the Dalits in the southern region.
Gokul was last seen talking to Swati from his village who was reportedly his lover. Swati belonged to the dominant Gounder community. According to the confession made by some of the arrested, Gokul was picked up by the members of an anti-Dalit group, Dheeran Chinnamalai Gounder Piravi, at the behest of its local leader Yuvraj, who is still at large. Yuvraj allegedly strangulated Gokul to death and threw his dead body on the railway tracks.