On 14 March 2016, Tamil Nadu woke up to CCTV footage of the gruesome hacking of a young couple in Udumalaipettai in the district of Tirupur. The CCTV recording was splashed all over social media, without any disclaimer on the graphic nature of the video. Though most people expressed their outrage and anguish over this brutal crime, there were also posts from dominant caste groups warning Dalit young men of similar consequences if they dared fall in love with upper caste women.
On the fateful day, five men armed with knives attacked a young couple, Shankar and Kaushalya, in broad daylight and hacked the young man to death. Kaushalya suffered grave injuries, but lived to narrate this spine-chilling tale of caste brutality, unleashed on them for the crime of falling in love across the endogamous borders of caste.
I am Kaushalya and I am 19 years old. My parents are Chinnasami (father) and Annalakshmi (mother), and I have a brother named Gautham. We belong to the Piramalai Kallar caste. My father’s native village is Gopalapuram, near Uthamapalayam. My mother’s village is Kuppanpalayam, near Palani, where we reside currently. My father runs a travel business. He is also into usury.
My family always loved me. I was their ‘pet’ daughter. My father got me everything I asked for. At the same time, I was barred from stepping out of the house. I wasn’t allowed to speak to anyone as well. I am not sure when exactly this became the norm, but I guess that’s how it had always been; perhaps since my birth.
After completing my 12th standard in the year 2014, I joined an engineering college in Pollachi. Shankar was studying engineering in the third year in the same college. He came from a village called Komaralingam near Palani. He was high-spirited, but always compassionate and loving in all his dealings. One day, Shankar asked me if I was in love with anyone. I said no. He said, “I like you a lot.” I said, “We can be friends, but don’t expect a love relationship with me.” He quietly said sorry and went along.
Even if it appears as if Shankar came to me to confess his love for me, he wasn’t angry when I rejected his love. I liked that about him. We began to have friendly conversations. One day, I asked about his family. I learned that his mother was gone and that his family consisted of his father and his two younger brothers. Shankar had a special habit – he always maintained a safe distance with his women friends, treating them with lot of respect and dignity.
After a few days, Shankar again said that he was sorry for hurting me. He also added, “But, I do like you a lot.” I stood there quiet, saying nothing. I had reasons for not refusing him the second time. Beyond love, I had developed respect as well for him. Shankar made me realize that dignified and respectful behaviour is the way of love.
After being friends with him for a while, I accepted Shankar’s love. One day, I asked him, “Why do you like me so much?” He said, “You look like my mother.” I was 17 then. I wasn’t strong enough to take on such a huge responsibility he expected from me through love; I was left speechless. I teared up slightly.
During our courtship, we always maintained our boundaries. We kept our in-person conversations to the minimum. We conversed more on the phone and through SMSes. In addition to pursuing engineering, I was learning Japanese. One day, the classes got a bit delayed. It must have been 7:30pm; Shankar was waiting for me and travelled together in the bus from Pollachi to Palani. Someone noticed us and informed my mother that I was seen talking to some man in the bus.
My mother asked me about Shankar. Can you guess my mother’s first question? It was, “What is Shankar’s caste?” I said he belonged to the Pallar caste. “How can you speak to him? If anyone of our caste people comes to know this, they will speak badly of our family,” she said.
Seeing my mother’s casteist response to my conversing with Shankar, I began to wonder about her reaction when came to know of my decision to marry him. I sent out a WhatsApp message to Shankar about it. He became quite restless, but he wasn’t angry. He was deeply in love. “Will I lose you as well, the way I lost my mother?” He replied on WhatsApp.
My family and my close relatives came to know about my relationship with Shankar. They started using abusive casteist slurs against him. They began attacking me as well. They started talking about getting me married.
I had no place to turn to. I feared that my family would marry me off to someone else if I didn’t marry Shankar, right away. Shankar still had nine months to complete his education. He would be able to get a job only if he completed his studies. If we got married before that, how were we to run the family? We were worried. Shankar and I discussed all this. I encouraged Shankar. “You study, I will work. After you complete your studies, you start working. Everything will be fine,” I told him. “How can I send you to work?” Shankar asked. I told him that there was no other way.
A wedding… and a police case
Shankar’s friends promised to get us married. On 11 July, 2015, at 12:00 noon, I left my home. Shankar was waiting for me. We went to one of Shankar’s relatives and asked to stay at their place for just a day. They consented. Next morning, we got married in the Palani Padha Vinayakar Temple; 20 of Shankar’s friends attended the wedding.
My father, meanwhile, lodged a complaint in the Palani police station alleging that Shankar had kidnapped me. We came to know of this. We went to the Udumalaipettai all women’s police station along with Shankar’s friends and lodged a complaint that we feared my parents would harm us. The police informed my parents and Shankar’s parents through telephone. On Shankar’s side, about 20 people, including his father and relatives turned up. Similarly on my side, about 15 people, including my father, mother, my grandmother (Kothaiammal), and my paternal aunts (Vanitha and Uma) came. The police talked with both families.
The police inspector asked me if it was right to leave my family and get married like this. “Love lasts for 60 days, and desire for 30 days! You come from a family of means. You have married a poor boy. How will you live?” He asked. To this, I replied, “We are both committed to each other. We will live happily regardless of the problems we may face.” To this, my father reacted, “My daughter is dead. We have no relationship with her anymore.”
One of my aunts said, “You married a boy from a lower caste because you didn’t want any boy from our own caste, right? Now remove all the gold jewellery we gave you.” I removed my chain, bangles, anklets, sari and slippers and changed into the clothes that my husband had bought for me. In a room at the police station where I was removing the clothes given by my family, I sensed the depravity of caste and the insult I had to undergo because of it.
Because of my resolve, the police took it in writing from my father that he would no longer disturb me and my husband and that he would in no way interfere in our life. I came home with Shankar. Shankar’s father was my father; his brothers were my brothers… that was how I felt when I walked into their house. And that’s how it continues even today.
On account of the case that my father had filed in the Palani police station, Shankar and I attended a court hearing on 13 July, 2015 at 4:30 pm. My father, my mother, my aunts Uma and Vanitha, my father’s mother Amsaveni, and my father’s friend Kalidas had come. They requested the police’s permission to meet me for five minutes and surrounded me and said, “Aren’t you ashamed to bear the Thali tied by a Pallar guy? You better come with us or we will kill you.” I turned away quietly. This angered them, and my grandmothers and my aunts got hold of my hair and started raining blows on my cheeks, on my breasts, on my back. I lost my balance and fell down. Shankar ran to me and tried to save me. The police also came immediately and rescued me.
In the court, I stated my wish to go with my husband. The judge dismissed my father’s complaint and said I was free to live with my husband. Shankar and I were scared thinking about my parents’ rabidity about caste. After returning from the court, Shankar and I never slept in his house. Each night we slept at a different relative’s house.
Betrayed and kidnapped
After a few days, my grandfather Jeyaraman came to see me. He said, “How are you? Your parents’ anger will die down in a few days.” He spoke lovingly. He spent the whole day with us and returned the next day with some meat. He was drunk. Saying, “Please cook this for your grandfather with your own hands,” he slept on the thinnai . I cooked and woke him up. He cried saying I was their family goddess. And, since he was heavily drunk, he couldn’t eat himself. So, I fed him and he went away, leaving his scooter behind.
The next day, 23 July of 2015, my grandfather came again around 11:30am. He said he was unwell and asked me to accompany him to the hospital in Madathukulam. I asked him to go on his own and said I was busy. “Do you doubt your grandfather?” he asked. Unable to say no, I and Mariyammal, one of Shankar’s sisters, pillion rode on my grandfather’s scooter. We visited a private hospital in Madathukulam.
When we came out of the hospital, a man, whom my grandfather introduced as his friend, was waiting outside with a two-wheeler. Grandfather said the friend would like us to visit his home, so Mariyammal could sit on his bike and I on his scooter. We followed his instructions and started. We were going together at the same speed when suddenly grandfather start speeding up after taking a turn. I kept asking him where he was taking me. He came to a forested area where a car was waiting. In the car were my father, mother and two of my father’s friends. When I saw them, I jumped from the scooter and started running.
My father and his friends chased after me, caught me and forced me into the car. By 3pm we were at Ottanchatram, where they took me to a godman. He prescribed some potions for me, which my parents forced me to have. Then, the godman told my parents that someone had cast a spell on me that had to be broken.
Then, they took me in the same car to my maternal aunt’s house in Dindigul. There my parents and my aunt used abusive language against me. “You are standing here after marrying a Pallar boy. You whore.” They made me remove my Thali, Metti and clothes and burned everything. When I resisted, my aunt attacked me brutally. I was made to stay in my aunt’s place that night.
The next day, they (my father, mother, and my uncle Pandidurai) took me to a Keralite godwoman. In addition, my uncle’s wife Sumathi and my (late) uncle Vijay’s wife Chithra, and their two sons joined us. By 9:30pm that god woman started doing puja using various objects.
After some time, she asked my parents about all the events that had happened. She suddenly became possessed and said, “If your daughter had stayed in Shankar’s house for even one more day, she wouldn’t be alive.” All my relatives said that only god had saved their daughter. She then tied a thread around my big toe and made me sleep in a separate room in that house. After some time, she came and slept next to me.
The god woman said to me, “You are a good girl. That boy has planned and cheated you. Are you two really living like husband and wife? Do you understand what I am asking you?” I replied, “Yes we are husband and wife. Why should we not be like husband and wife? We are deeply in love with each other. Will you please let my husband know that I have been kidnapped?” She said she could do no such thing and that my family would definitely kill her if she tried.
The next morning, the godwoman told my family everything I had said to her. My parents went almost crazy. Suddenly, they told the priest that they were going somewhere and took me to a village. The godman in that village said that this was witchcraft and that he would do what was required to remedy it. He started reciting some verses. A few seeds–they resembled papaya seeds–fell from somewhere. “See, I have broken the spell,” he declared.
Again they took me to the Keralite godwoman at about 3:00pm. The woman secretly asked me where they had taken me and I said to some priest. She asked me if my parents didn’t trust her. I kept mum. I don’t know what transpired in her mind, but she suddenly said, “Give me your husband’s phone number.” She dialled Shankar’s number and told him that I was safe before cutting the call.
After that, the godwoman started speaking to my parents in an uninterested tone. This made them suspicious and they took me to my aunt’s home, where my father and my aunts hit me again.
The whole night, my relatives took turns to be on vigil. Then, they decided to take me to a godman in Varushanadu; it was 26 July 2015. The godman there produced a blessed metal object that he asked my father to tie around a neem tree. Another godman smeared a terrible paste on my forehead. I wiped it off soon. “You only want that Pallar boy’s relationship? Don’t you want us? Bearing the child of a Pallar in a Kallar womb is blasphemous, don’t you know that? I am ashamed that you were born to me and I bred you,” said my father. They then took me to a relative’s house in Varushanadu.
When we were in Varushanadu, my father got a call from the police in Maduthukulam. The phone was on loudspeaker. The policeman Ramesh said, “The boy who eloped and married your daughter, and his father have lodged a complaint. Things are getting serious. Please bring your daughter. But don’t worry; things will only happen according to your wishes. Come with ₹20,000 for the inspector. Also, pressurize your daughter to say that she doesn’t want to go with the boy and that she wants to return to her parents’ place.”
That night by 11, my parents took me to my uncle Mohan’s place in Tirupur. That night we stayed there. The next day, on 27 July, at 8:00am, an advocate came and took me aside and asked for my decision. I said I wanted to live with my husband. “This is your life, please think about it,” he said. “What’s there to think; I want to live with my Shankar, that’s all there’s to it,” I said. The advocate then took my father aside and said something to him.
From my uncle Mohan’s house, they took me to another relative’s house after 12:30pm. There, my mother, my father, my grandfather Jeyaraman and my father’s friends asked me for my decision. “Won’t you return with us?” I pleaded with them to let me go to my husband, Shankar. To this, my parents said, “We’ll give you some poison, drink it and die.” In the meantime, my father kept getting calls from the police station and advocates repeatedly. He would step aside and attend those calls and return.
After sometime, my father said, “You go and live with that low-caste dog and die; we have completely disowned you. In sometime, the advocate will come, you can go with him.”
By 5:45pm, the advocate, his friend and my grandfather took me to the Maduthukulam police station. On our way, the advocate instructed me not to mention that I was kidnapped, but that I went along with my grandfather to the hospital. I told him that I only want to live with my husband and I have no intention to settle any scores and will abide by what he said. I stated the same at the police station as well. The police then sent me with Shankar.
From the time I was kidnapped in Maduthukulam by my grandfather, Shankar and his father lodged complaints in the police stations in Komaralingam, Maduthukulam and Udumalaipettai (all-women police station). In the five days that I went missing, he had made a tremendous effort to rescue me. The relief and joy on his face were obvious when he finally saw me in the Maduthukulam police station. Since Shankar had a few more months of study left, I decided to look for a job and found one in a tiles company.
After a few days, my grandmother Kothaiammal came to see me. Shankar and I were confused. She was very affectionate towards us. We did not sense anything dubious. Not once, twice, or thrice, my grandmother continued to come home several times. She would take us to the bakery and buy us tea and snacks. She would give ₹200 or ₹500 and also tell us that she visited us without my parents’ knowledge.
In the month of January, Shankar and I went shopping in Udumalaipettai. My grandmother accompanied us. When we were walking past a hospital named Kavitha Srinivasan, a Scorpio car came to a halt before us. From the car, my parents, my aunt Uma and a few others got down. When I saw them I told Shankar to run. When we started running, they chased us. They caught me, and I screamed for help. Passersby and the police came to our rescue and took us to the Udumalaipettai all-women’s police station. That’s when we realized that my grandmother had planned the whole thing. By then my family had escaped. The police then told us it would be impossible for them provide us any more protection and advised us to move to some other place.
After two months, my parents and some of our relatives came home one day and asked me to go with them. I said, “This is my husband’s home and I will live only here.” My father offered ₹10 lakh to Shankar’s father and told him to send me with them. Shankar’s father said, “How can you put a price on your daughter?” I was terribly hurt by my father’s behaviour and said, “I will not leave Shankar even if you give ₹10 crore.” To this, my father said, “Our relatives are very angry with you, they will kill you and your husband and that’s why I am warning you.” Since Shankar and I were firm, my relatives left after hurling casteist abuses at us.
The cruel end
On the morning of the incident, on 13 March, 2016, Shankar told me, “Tomorrow is the college annual day, get me a new shirt, baby.” I said, “Definitely, let’s go to Udumalaipettai.” He went out and returned after a haircut.
We went to Udumalaipettai by 1:00pm. We went into a textile shop and got him a shirt. When we came out, the shirt on the display window seemed better and so I suggested we get that instead. Then, we went in, got a different shirt, and came out. We had some cool drinks in a nearby shop. I told him that we now had only ₹60 left for the month and so we must be quite frugal. He smiled and said, “We’ll manage baby. Tonight I’ll get some flour and make some chapattis for you.” We happily chatted and walked together.
Then at 2pm, a group of five men in bikes surrounded us, pushed us to the ground, and attacked us with knives. They started hacking at Shankar, and they attacked me too. As they hacked Shankar, they shouted, “How dare you love, you Pallar son-of-a-bitch.”
Shankar’s dead. None of his friends turned up for his funeral. The whole world watched the CCTV recording of the gruesome hacking of Shankar and me. After receiving treatment for my grievous injuries, I sit here as a walking corpse.
The thought that my parents used my grandparents in this sends a shiver down my spine. I thought what my parents had for me was love. I realize today that it’s love for the caste. What family is it that hires mercenaries to kill their own daughter and son-in-law?
Many demand that the government should give me education, job, and protection. I am grateful to them. I might get all this and it could be a new life for me, but what does one do with caste that made me lose my life in the first place?
Shankar was a first-generation engineer and he had some dreams. This caste snatched those away too. I might get justice. But will caste ever end?
What answers do we have for Kaushalya’s question? Will caste ever end?
Evidence is an organization with a mission to create a society that ensures equality and justice to all by fighting caste-based discrimination and injustice. Kathir Vincent, the founder director, a Dalit himself has witnessed and experienced caste based discrimination since his childhood which triggered him to become a fighter against this caste system and caste based atrocities against Dalits.
This is as told to Kathir Vincent Raj, Executive director, EVIDENCE. And posted by him at The Huffington Post.
Original Tamil text is available here. Translated by Hannah Dhanaraj, who works in Chennai.