In the news: Honour killings in Tamil Nadu

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The Times of India, Chennai, carried several stories last week on honour killings in Tamil Nadu. One of our Prajnya volunteers, Shalini Umachandran, has contributed.

Shalini Umachandran and Padmini Sivarajah/TNN, Honour killings haunt women in TN too: Deepa, Times of India, July 7, 2010.

“Chennai/Madurai: Megala decided to follow her heart. And paid a heavy price for it, losing her lover and being attacked and ostracised by her family and community in Manamadurai.

“The latest in a series of such attacks on women in the state, the Megala case dispels the popular notion that ‘honour killings’ are confined to Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh in the north; southern states such as Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh too witness similar incidents periodically. Many of them are sparked off when educated single women walk out of their homes and choose their own partners, sometimes from another community or caste.

“Honour crimes and killings take place when young people challenge accepted norms of marriage, according to a study commissioned by the National Commission for Women (NCW). Megala, 20, and Sivakumar, 24, were told they couldn’t marry as they were related. Her family married her off in June. Ten days after the wedding, she ran away with Sivakumar. Her family tracked the couple down and attacked Sivakumar with ‘aruvaals’. Sivakumar died on the spot, and his killers, who included her father and brother, have been arrested. Megala, now in hospital, says that everyone in her village, including her mother, feels that the punishment is justified as she brought shame to her village and the Thevar community to which she belongs.

“The accusation against her are virtually the same as those made against victims in north India. The NCW study, still underway, shows that of the 326 cases of conflict surveyed so far nationwide, 72% were because the couple crossed caste barriers and only 3% were because the couple were from the same gotra. “Women are making their own choices and in a patriarchal set-up this causes problems,” says Ravi Kant, Supreme Court advocate and president of Shakti Vahini, the organisation that is conducting the study for NCW.

“Activists in Tamil Nadu endorse this view. “Honour killings are not unheard of in TN. The basis is usually caste, more often than not a Dalit boy marrying an upper caste girl,” says U Vasuki, general secretary, All-India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA).

“But there is no data available to indicate the extent of the problem, primarily because cases are registered as murder under the IPC without charges to indicate that it may be an honour killing. If the case involves a Dalit and a non-Dalit, it is registered under the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act.”

Shalini Umachandran, Victim count in honour crimes stays hidden, Times of India, July 7, 2010.

“Chennai: The lack of a specific law to tackle honour crimes, coupled with the reluctance of police to register cases, leads to difficulties in counting the number of victims, say lawyers and activists. “Many people say ‘honour killings don’t happen in our state’,” says Ravi Kant, Supreme Court advocate and president of Shakti Vahini, an organisation conducting a study on honour killings for National Commission for Women. “It happens across the country, it’s just that we can’t count the cases since they are not registered under the ‘honour killings.”

“Honour crimes are registered under general sections of the Indian Penal Code as instances of assault, battery or homicide. If the case involves a dalit and a non-dalit, it is filed under the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act as a caste-based crime. “Here, honour killings are not as rampant as in north India but they do happen and are often hushed up,” says U Vasuki, general secretary, All-India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA). “In Tamil Nadu, caste is the main motive behind an honour killing. The SC/ST act is stringent enough when the killings are carried out by individuals. But there are cases in which the entire community is involved — when khap and katta panchayats order killings, then you need a separate act to deal with it and instil fear in people,” she says.

“Police too are reluctant to challenge existing caste equations. “The police have a rather callous approach to caste issues. They feel these are family matters and do not like to interfere,” says Vasuki. Tirunelveli district SP Asra Garg says an honour killing is always preceded by threats and other minor attacks. “Action should be taken at this point. Intervention is the key to prevent the situation from escalating,” he says. Advocate Geeta Ramaseshan adds, “There are many other forms of violence that are not addressed — the woman being kept under house arrest, forcibly married off to another man, being threatened into submission. But who will file these complaints for the police to act?”

“Megala, the woman who was attacked on Monday and whose lover was killed, told a fact-finding team from Evidence, an organisation working in the field of human rights, that her family had kept her locked up for a month when they found she had fallen in love with her cousin, Sivakumar. She was then married off to an older man. When she ran away with Sivakumar, the family hunted them down and killed him.

“A Kathir, executive director of Evidence, says this was a classic case. “The immediate family is involved. If a complaint is filed as is required in the case of murder, it’s hard to make the charges stick. Witnesses often turn hostile as they are threatened,” he says. Garg says they provide protection to witnesses and complainants. “But if they refuse to cooperate or money plays a role, then we are helpless,” he says.”

V Mayilvaganan/TNN, Breaking caste barrier proved fatal, The Times Of India Chennai, July 7, 2010.

“Cuddalore: It was one gruesome incident of honour killing that shook the state in 2003. Newlywed D Kannagi (22) from the backward Vanniyar caste and her Dalit husband S Murugesan (25) — both graduates — were hounded, hunted down, harassed and killed by the girl’s parents and relatives. They were killed in the most brutal way. They were forcefed poison with about a dozen persons watching them die slowly in their native Puthukooraipettai village near Vriddachalam in Cuddalore district.

“A chemical engineer, Murugesan fell in love with Kannagi, a commerce graduate, during their college days at Annamalai University in Chidambaram. Fully aware that their families would not approve their affair, Murgesan and Kannagi married discretely soon after they completed their graduation in May. They, however, continued to live in their respective houses until Murugesan got a job.

“A top grader, Murugesan managed to get a job in Tirupur in a month and on July 3 Kannagi went to Tirupur with Murugesan. Kannagi’s father Duraisamy, who was also the Puthukooraipettai panchayat president, and his relatives had been furiously hunting for the couple. Four days later, Murugesan came to the village hoping to sneak away after taking the academic certificates from his house. However, he was caught. “He was tortured the whole day, with his relatives demanding that he reveal the location of Kannagi. The harassment continued throughout the night. When it turned unbearable, he disclosed the details of where Kannagi was staying,’’ said S Velmurugan, brother of Murugesan who was 19 years old then. Kannagi was brought to the village.

“It was then that the cruel episode unfolded. Duraisamy and his relatives allegedly fed the young couple with a poisonous drink even as relatives stood mute witnesses.

“Their bodies were burnt and disposed. “Even now there is lot of pressure to withdraw the case,” says Velmurugan. The case is being investigated by the CBI. Advocate P Rathnam said he has filed a writ in the high court seeking fresh probe.”

V Mayilvaganan/TNN, Honour killings have a southern twist, Times of India, July 7, 2010.

“Thanjavur: Lakshmi has never hated anyone like she does her brothers. A victim of ‘honour’ killing, she no longer likes her caste either. Hailing from a middle class family of Kallars – a dominant backward caste – in the agrarian Tiruvarur district, 31-year-old Lakshmi now lives with her Dalit in-laws for the past one and half years. But, her husband Sivaji is no more. He was brutally murdered by her brothers in 2008, barely six months after she got married to him, just because he was a dalit.

““Though we were constantly worried about being tracked down by my brothers, we were having the happiest days of our life. We had rented a house at Malampatti village near Dindigul with the help of my husband’s friend,” recalls Lakshmi.

“It was exactly five years ago that Lakshmi, a plus-two dropout, met Sivaji, an auto driver from the nearby Haridwaramangalam village who used to drive by her Magimai village daily. She was 26 years old then and Sivaji 29. The feudal caste hierarchy did not stop them. Soon the young couple were deeply in love.

“Reality struck them when Lakshmi’s family learnt about the affair. Her brothers Subramanian and Sivakumar were furious at the prospect of their sister having an affair with a dalit. They threatened her and asked her to discontinue the relationship immediately.

““But I ignored the warnings and decided to marry Sivaji. I left the house and went to Dindigul along with him on March 4, 2008.” Solemnised by their friends, Lakshmi and Sivaji got married at a temple in Dindigul the same day. It was six months later that her brothers managed to track her down.

““They somehow learnt that we were in Dindigul. I later learnt that my brothers had rented a house in Dindigul and were searching for us for over a month. On September 7, around 6am someone knocked on our door. When my husband unlocked it, my brothers barged into the house and dragged my husband out. Even as I screamed, they dumped him into a car and fled away,’’ Lakshmi recalled.

“A day later Sivaji’s body was found near Grand Anicut in Thanjavur with cut injuries. Sivakumar, Subramanian and three others were arrested after a few days’ search. Now they are out on bail and trial is on. Lakshmi lives with her mother -in-law Chellamma. “I would sometimes wonder why I was born in such a family,” says Lakshmi.”

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