Tamil Nadu Perspective: Draft National Policy for Women



Swarna Rajagopalan and Ragamalika Karthikeyan

One of the shortcomings of the Draft National Policy for Women 2016 is that it does not reflect regional concerns. Perhaps the expectation is that each state will come up with its own Policy guidelines but given the weakness of State Commissions for Women, there is no institutional advocate in most states that could push for such a document, leave alone engineer the consultations and debates that should precede the drafting of this document. Moreover, in the absence of truly wide-ranging consultations that reach beyond the usual suspects, the recommendations or guidelines as they stand are silent on a lot of key concerns for women.

Based on the experiences of women in Tamil Nadu in the last few years, we at Prajnya drew up a short list of concerns that they would be well-served to have included in the National Draft Policy.

I. Sexual and gender based inter-caste violence (‘Honour’ crimes): Since June 2013, civil society estimates 88 ‘honour’ killings in Tamil Nadu, with caste-mobs murdering young inter-caste couples, and sometimes even their families. Falling in love or marrying outside of caste boundaries is often threatened with sexual violence and murder. With no official estimates of such crimes, justice is often delayed or denied.

The Draft National Policy as it stands does not consider the gendered consequences of the overlap of vulnerabilities—when caste or socio-economic status or minority or ethnic status already place you at a disadvantage, both women and men are even more vulnerable to human rights violations, including sexual and gender-based violence.

II. The challenges faced by women refugees living in and out of camps in Tamil Nadu: There are over one lakh Sri Lankan refugees living in Tamil Nadu, close to 65,000 of them in refugee camps. Many of them live in cramped spaces without basic amenities like access to water and sanitation. Women and girls in these camps face sexual and gender based violence which goes frequently unreported. While life as refugees in India is difficult, going back to an unstable home in Sri Lanka is not an option for many.

Displacement is a reality across India—both refugees and internally displaced persons. Women make up at least half of these numbers and yet, the Draft National Policy does not acknowledge or address their problems.

III. Women and disasters: There is just one paragraph that mentions women’s needs in disaster contexts. Given the present frequency of climate change and human-made disasters, a gender-sensitive disaster risk reduction and mitigation policy is an urgent need that needs to be emphasised strongly.

In states like Tamil Nadu, women are vulnerable to both natural (and climate change) disasters like last year’s floods as well as the slow disasters that might result from human-planned development and industrial projects gone awry. The National Policy should mandate their inclusion with voice in consultations and decision-making at every turn–from project planning, to land acquisition negotiations, to resettlement planning and to safety planning.

IV. Workplace-related guidelines: While the Draft National Policy does address livelihood issues at length and emphasise the importance of workplace protections, we would like to draw attention to three situations where Tamil Nadu women would benefit from stronger national guidelines to protect their rights.

a. Forced and bonded labour of women and girls in spinning mills: A study conducted by civil society organisations says about 100,000 girls and women are being exploited as bonded labour in the textile industry in the state, and frequently face sexual violence at the workplace. Following the suspicious death of a teenager in Tirupur in March, investigations have revealed poor living conditions, and exploitative ‘schemes’ endangering the safety and health of young women.

b. Minimum wage for domestic workers in Tamil Nadu: Domestic workers are not covered under the Minimum Wages Act, and while some states have fixed a minimum wage, Tamil Nadu is not among them. There is also little awareness about their rights among domestic workers. Workplace sexual harassment, health insurance, decent working conditions are other areas of concern.

c. Enumeration of manual scavengers, abolition of manual scavenging: While the TN Govt has claimed there are only 210 manual scavengers in the state, both the National Commission for Scheduled Castes as well as civil society organisations have rejected this number. The state has over 2 lakh unsanitary toilets, and as many as 27,659 households are serviced manually, with another 26,020 households serviced by animals. Night soil is usually collected by Dalit women, and this inhuman practice, while officially abolished, still persists.

V. Single women living in poverty: Destitute, deserted and never married women (especially those over 35 years) living in urban slums and rural areas deserve social support. The National Policy should acknowledge their special needs.*

VI. Enabling Environment: The TN State Women’s Commission has been less and less active in the last decade, chaired by political appointees who have rarely reached out to women’s groups and other parts of civil society. The State and National Commissions are uniquely placed to serve as a bridge between government and civil society, and when they are more or less moribund, they are a wasted opportunity for a strong partnership between the two for social change. Civil society loses and institutional ally and the government loses the ability to genuinely connect with the public.

The National Policy for Women should re-imagine the Women’s Commissions in a stronger form and mandate their constitution as an independent, well-resourced and pro-active body.

*Point V is the contribution of Ms. Renuka Bala of the Centre for Women’s Development Research. 

Why the State Women’s Commission matters


Normally, when asked about whether the government should do this or that to respond to an incident of violence or a gender equality violation, we are given to talking about the three fingers that point back. This is not because we think governments act perfectly all the time (no one does) but because we believe in the importance of proactive citizenship and in the role of civil society. Governments cannot do everything on their own; even when we delegate authority, a good part of the burden of social change remains with us–we are the ‘social’ in social change, after all.

Having said that, we created this petition for a strong Women’s Commission in Tamil Nadu along with several civil society colleagues because such a body can be important to our work.

The Commissions for Women at the National and State level occupy something of a hybrid and therefore, link, position between government and civil society. The Commission Chair and members are usually from civil society but appointed by the government of the day. They have the authorisation of government officials, giving them better access than most civil society advocates have. The Commission is a platform from which they can speak to contemporary issues and also the crisis of a given day. The secretariat and the resources of the Commission derive directly from government, giving them the advantage of both institutional memory and better resources.

A strong, dynamic Commission is an asset to civil society because its members can draw on their old networks to anchor their work, and because Commissioners afford civil society quick access to government. So, if there is an incident in the districts, and local NGOs cannot get help, the Commission potentially can intervene to facilitate and make help available. A pro-active Chair and Commission could fashion an important role for itself in the journey towards social change. A retrogressive Chair and Commission could drag us down just as well.

This is why it is important to us and to our colleagues to see that when the newly re-elected Tamil Nadu Chief Minister makes that appointment, she appoints the right person, someone we defined in our petition as “sensitive to gender issues, and has concretely contributed towards women’s empowerment.” Those engaged in the work of social change–and gender equality–in civil society need an institutional ally who will bring together the resources of government and the reach of civil society.

This is why we urge you to sign our petition today:


If you care about gender equality, this should be important to you as well.





Your gender equality election assessment: Resources


For those who will vote in Tamil Nadu, and would like to arrive at their own Gender Equality Election assessment (as you should!), we are compiling the resources we have found. We will keep updating this as we go.

Nomination information:

TN State Election Commission, Nominations and Affidavits

Lists of candidates from all parties


Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam

Pattali Makkal Katchi

Namma Thamizhar Katchi

All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam  (no content yet)


Do send us links to other manifestos (full-text, not reports or summaries): media.prajnya@gmail.com


Gender Equality Report Card: Tamil Nadu Election 2016



How do Tamil Nadu parties fare
according to the
Prajnya Gender Equality Election Checklist?

The Prajnya Gender Equality Election Checklist released two weeks ago offers voters five criteria to determine a candidate or party’s commitment to gender equality:

1. Zero-tolerance for violence in speech or action.
2. Commitment to gender parity (or something close to it) in nominations.
3. Evidence of equal party support to male and other candidates.
4. Strong and clear positions in favour of gender equality.
5. Genuine concern about gender-related issues in speeches and interviews.

Now that nominations have been filed, many manifestos published and campaigns are underway, how do Tamil Nadu parties fare? In the absence of party-generated data that is up-to-date, comprehensive and gender-disaggregated, the following commentary is based on media accounts.

1. On the question of gender-based violence, parties are inclined to focus on protection of women and other gender minorities rather than creating the conditions for eliminating the threat of violence. Some striking expressions of patriarchal thinking:
• The DMK will introduce (yet another) mobile app.
• The PWF will ensure that law enforcement prioritises women’s safety, but they would also like to keep women protected, such as prohibiting overtime work for them.

2. Where nomination of women goes, virtually no party approaches parity. This shows that political institutions are blind to women’s work and leadership.

Party Women Candidates Total Candidates Percentage
AIADMK 31 227 13.7
BJP 15 168 7.1
Congress 3 41 7.3
CPI 1 25 4
CPM 3 25 12
DMDK 1? 104 NA
DMK 19 173 11
MDMK 4 29 13.8
NTK 5 75 6.7
PMK 15 234 6.4
TMC 1 26 3.8
VCK 2 25 8
Total 323

(+ 2 Third Gender)

3785 8.5
  1. It is hard to know whether parties are supporting male and female candidates equally, but three questions that enable us to read between the lines of their behaviour are as follows:
  • To which seats have women candidates been nominated? Are these prominent seats or either marginal seats or seats where the incumbent is a prominent woman?
  • When those vehicles with megaphones come by, which names do you hear more often? Without party support, it would be hard to pay for autos, banners and handouts.
  • Which parties’ candidates are campaigning door-to-door? Without party support, there would not be volunteers to walk the streets.
  1. Looking at the manifestos released, we do not see strong evidence of a concern about gender issues. By and large, three concerns define the gender perspective of the political parties: safety, motherhood and livelihoods. As important as they are, they reveal the patriarchal thinking at the core of even the parties that make claims to being progressive. How do the parties line up on other key issues?

Political and government reservations:

  • PMK backs 50% reservation for women in local bodies and 33% in the police.
  • DMK will push for the Women’s Reservation Bill at the Centre.

Workplace safety:

  • DMK will push for workplace sexual harassment committees in places like spinning mills.
  • PWF will enforce universal compliance with the provisions of the law against workplace sexual harassment, BUT, they also plan to penalise those who employ women overtime.


  • The PWF foresees a role for an invigorated and accountable Women’s Commission.

Self-Help Groups remain the instrument of choice for grassroots change, and the DMK proposes to introduce SHGs for transgender persons.

  1. Gender has hardly featured in any of the speeches we have heard so far.

The media has raised questions about gender in the manifestos and about the nomination of non-male candidates, but this commentary has remained marginal. Most disconcerting, but unsurprising, was the recent survey by the NGO, Association for Democratic Reforms, that showed that gender equality is not a priority concern for either urban or rural voters in Tamil Nadu. The challenge then is to make it an issue, and it is a challenge we hope civil society and media will take up by posing relevant questions repeatedly.

Tamil Nadu’s parties attempt to address transgender rights although their performance is strictly hit or miss. Where the PMK, for instance, proposes to set up hostels for transgender women which may be useful, the DMDK wants to set up separate schools and colleges.

It is clear that manifestos are written in isolation and without an attempt to understand what communities actually want. It is in society’s interest to break that isolation and initiate dialogue with parties, and smart parties will seek that dialogue so that they can genuinely claim to represent the people. In this election, it must be acknowledged that some sections of the media have attempted to evaluate gender sensitivity among political parties and candidates, but the poor Prajnya Gender Equality Election Checklist showing of parties across the board shows there is much work to be done. A good starting point would be gender-disaggregated data and the demand for such data may well be where we begin our campaigns for gender equality in the election process.


Prajnya Gender Equality Election Checklist




Democracy without gender equality is incomplete and imperfect.

Political parties, election officials and voters must all demonstrate
a commitment to inclusivity and a concern for gender-related issues
from survival to violence to access to participation.


Make Gender Parity a Guiding Principle for Selection

  1. Encourage members to nominate women.
  2. Short-list an equal number of men and women for each seat before making a decision.
  3. Actively seek to nominate a roughly equal number of men and women for the 2016 elections.

DO NOT, we repeat,

  1. Do NOT nominate those facing charges relating to sexual and gender-based violence
    unless and until a court absolves them.
  2. Do NOT nominate those guilty of sexist and misogynistic speech.

Make Place for Gender Equality in the Party Manifesto

  1. Expressly commit to gender equality.
  2. Clarify party positions on issues relating to gender equality—violence, access to justice, access to opportunity and services and property rights, for instance.
  3. Expressly commit to gender parity in key party and government positions.


Vote for a party that shows

  1. Zero-tolerance for violence in speech or action.
  2. Commitment to gender parity (or something close to it) in nominations.
  3. Evidence of equal party support to male and other candidates.
  4. Strong and clear positions in favour of gender equality.
  5. Genuine concern about gender-related issues in speeches and interviews.



Notes from a roundtable on gender and disasters, December 23, 2014


Gender and Disaster Reconstruction: Insights and Lessons

December 23rd, 2014

Rapporteur: Archana Venkatesh

This roundtable session on how gender awareness has the potential to play a role in disaster management took place in the offices of the Tamil Nadu State Planning Commission. It centered around presentations by speakers from The Prajnya Trust, the All India Disaster Mitigation Institute, Swayam Shikshan Prayog, and the State Planning Commission. The other participants came from related state government departments. The focus of this session was primarily on formulation of policy on disaster management, based on the assumption that gender influences how people experience disasters as well as relief.

The session opened with a brief statement of purpose by Mr Sugato Dutt, Member-Secretary of the Tamil Nadu State Planning Commission (TNSPC). It proceeded with a round of introductions, and a statement of welcome by the Vice Chairperson TNSPC, Ms Santha Sheela Nair.

Dr Swarna Rajagopalan, Managing Trustee of The Prajnya Trust, made the first presentation. She gave the audience a comprehensive overview of the topic, and also pointed out that while we talk about gender awareness in policy making at length, we also need to consider the everyday impact of gender on the ground in a disaster situation. We need to examine the gendered consequences of disasters, and look for a way to address them. She added that there are varying guises of gender politics at play in disasters, including labour, safety, and the case of marginalized groups.

Dr Rajagopalan drew attention to the shortcomings of a generalized policy of reconstruction rather than a context-specific one that takes advantages of existing systems of economic/political activity to create policies for relief. The main problem with generalized policies is the important observations they miss in their one-size-fits-all type of solution. For example, they often reinforce normative gender roles and ignore any possible existing subversion of them – women often engage in economic activity that promotes reconstruction, but this work is not recognized by relief organizations, let alone co-opted into their policy. Above all, there is a failure to recognize that there needs to be equal representation at all levels of reconstruction, from policy planning to the fieldwork. Gender awareness is not a little box on a checklist that needs to be checked, but a fuller understanding of any situation.

Dr Rajagopalan stressed the need to look beyond the axioms of gender and disaster (such as the idea that women are always the most victimized class of people in a disaster; or even the idea that gender is only about women). In order to do this, she suggested we re-examine individual needs and contexts through three lenses: vulnerability, visibility and voice. The most important question to ask ourselves while going into a disaster situation is this: whose voice is seen as the default one? Whose is the most visible perspective? Very often, the answer to this question leaves us in no doubt that individuals experience a gendered reality. Thus, we need to reconsider assumptions about who are the most vulnerable populations in a disaster, and turn this around to reveal their potential for action and reconstruction.

photo 39Mr Mihir Bhatt, Director of the All India Disaster Mitigation Institute, gave the second presentation. Speaking about Women in the Emergency Response Phase, Mr Bhatt looked at the results of a comprehensive study undertaken in 2014 to examine the impact of the response to tsunami relief in Indonesia, India and Sri Lanka, with a specific focus on Tamil Nadu. The study used various methodologies, including appreciative inquiry, group interviews, and some quantitative methods. Data was collected in 15 locations along the coast from Chennai to Kanyakumari, from over 1500 families. The focus of the study was to study the impact of two main measures of relief: shelter and livelihood. Mr Bhatt shared a few observations about the positive impact of relief measures in these two, and other (allied), areas. Firstly, he noted that the number of families that were counted as being below the poverty line (BPL) had decreased in the past ten years. Secondly, all children of school-going age were enrolled in and attended school regularly. Thirdly, the overall investment in houses (built by the government as part of the relief measures) had increased, improving the asset by addition of rooms, etc. Finally, though income from coastal fisheries had decreased, an increase was observed in inland fishing. Mr Bhatt suggested that these observations demonstrated that tsunami relief work has created social and economic opportunity in the affected regions. He also noted that there was a rising awareness of green energy at all levels, and this would have to be studied further.

A question was raised about the role of Self Help Groups (SHG) in the affected regions. Mr Bhatt responded that the history of SHGs in the region meant that there was some familiarity with concepts like financial discipline and financial literacy, which was helpful for the recovery process. Another commenter shared a number of stories about women taking on leadership roles in situations arising from relief work, and the challenged these women face.

photo 32

Ms Vandana Chauhan gave the third presentation of the day, speaking about Lessons from the Post-Tsunami Decade on Women’s Agency and Leadership. She examined the findings of a comparative study undertaken in India, Indonesia and Japan. The study stressed the importance of action oriented emergency plans that were concise and readable.

Ms Chauhan examined the requirements for capacity-building among women, and suggested that the following factors were most important: confidence, decision making power, setting up of a standard operating procedure in case of disasters.

In her assessment of the impact of relief measures on affected areas, Ms Chauhan noted that relief measures related to livelihood, asset creation, access to primary healthcare centres (PHCs), education, and governance have been largely positive. In terms of livelihood, measures intended to augment income generation are still in effect today and continue to promote the independence of women. Asset creation can be observed in the form of developing opportunities for housing. Education in particular shows a positive trend: the demand for women’s education. All these situations present an opportunity for leadership, especially by women.

Ms Chauhan closed with some lessons for the future. She advocated an increased awareness of the local context while enacting relief measures, as well as the use of traditional mechanisms and channels in incorporating the local community in relief programs. Ms Chauhan was of the opinion that this was important to ensure sustainable recovery.

photo 33 photo 36

A commenter demonstrated how far relief work has come in the past couple of decades by comparing work in 1990 in Orissa and current relief work. It was noted that a key aspect of this improvement was better preparation. Some concern was also expressed about the position of children in disasters, especially with the increased risk of communicable diseases. An audience member also advocated a more streamlined bureaucracy to prevent doubling up of activities in relief work.

photo 29

Ms Prema Gopalan made the fourth presentation of the day, about Engaging Women in the Post-Disaster Reconstruction Process. She drew attention to the potential of disaster relief work as an opportunity for the empowerment of women. Looking at the activities and organization of women’s groups, Ms Gopalan also noted that gender affects men and women differently – and that it is particularly important to remember this while formulating policy on relief work. It is important to ensure that women are facilitators of recovery. It is also essential to recognize women’s role in mobilizing the community. In this regard, disasters create situations in which traditional social and cultural norms are broken, allowing for the participation and leadership of non-traditional classes – such as women.

Pointing to case studies in Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat, Ms Gopalan demonstrated the success of local women as mobilizers and trainers in the community. Advocating for self-help, she recommended that communities should map their own vulnerabilities and capacities in planning disaster relief. Aid should be given directly to the affected communities rather than through bureaucratic channels. Investment by the government needs to be protected by community leadership, and women play a key role in monitoring this. In Ms Gopalan’s own experience, she found that infrastructure and services are protected in the long run if women are involved in the management of them. She also drew attention to the success of women-led preparedness task forces, where women wrote their own manuals for preparedness (against disasters). By viewing women as active agents in their communities, a new perspective emerges.

photo 30

The Vice-Chairperson of TNSPC asked if there was any resistance from men to the leadership of women. Ms Gopalan responded that there was some resistance at first, but in disaster sites, men did not object to women taking responsibility, and women themselves were eager to change the status quo. She reiterated the importance of disasters as an opportunity for women to change the status quo of gender relations.

A question was raised about specific ways to encourage women’s leadership in disaster management. Ms Gopalan suggested that we need to have less specialization in NGOs, and that NGOs need to work in conversation with each other and the government.

A question was raised about the increased participation of women in politics as a measure of women’s empowerment. Ms Gopalan felt that this doesn’t really promote women’s empowerment for various reasons. However, Dr Rajagopalan pointed out that the presence of women in politics is more of an intrinsic good since it represents more women in decision-making processes.

Members of the TNSPC pointed out that NGOs need to function through the year rather than only in disaster situations. A commenter also raised the importance of educating boys at the school level to ensure gender sensitization. The Vice Chairperson noted the relief work done by religious organizations in Tamil Nadu.

Ms Gopalan agreed that NGOs need to work together, with the facilitation of the government. She also reiterated the need to ensure that women are stakeholders in their own communities.

A question was raised about the possibility of community monitoring of funds, given the controversial history of this initiative. Ms Gopalan was of the opinion that the success of this would depend on the government officers to a certain extent, and how responsive they are to the idea. Mr Bhatt also pointed to an example of community responsibility in Assam. Schoolteachers took responsibility in conducting safety audits in schools. He also emphasized the role of women schoolteachers in formulating safety codes for schools.

photo 21

The final presentation of the day was made by a Consultant in disaster management and training in the TN State Disaster Management Agency on behalf of the Revenue Administration and Disaster Management Department. He drew attention to the common perception that one shouldn’t raise the cry of gender in a disaster situation. This perception is problematic, since women and men experience disaster in different ways. He stressed the need to have equal respect for male and female survivors. Speaking of some of the main features of TN Disaster Management, he spoke of the presence of planning at various levels, and various time frames. He also advocated the importance of increased participation of women at decision making levels, the importance of education about disaster management in schools, and incorporating SHGs in capacity building.

The Vice Chairperson asked if women were really in a position of authority to make decisions rather than just filling up quotas on committees. The Consultant answered that they were part of committees, but lacked real power. A commenter pointed out that out of 5-6 lakh SHGs, 50% of them had real leadership by women, but not in the area of disaster management. Interestingly, a commenter pointed out that 70% of the people who attend disaster management workshops are women. Are they including in decision making processes? Not really. However, there has been a growing change in this trend in recent times, especially at the community level, where there is more participation by women. The space has been created for women to make decisions, and this is a hopeful development.

Ms Gopalan said that this needs to be taken to the higher levels od decision making too. Empowerment can be seen at the village level, but not at the Taluk and District levels.

An audience member also pointed to the need to select attendees to training programs more carefully based on their capacities. There is also a need for training about disaster management in villages. A suggestion was made to include Panchayat Level Federations in this initiative.

Mr Bhatt asked if there was a difference in the way disaster management policy was formulated in rural and urban parts of Tamil Nadu. The Vice Chairperson asked if codes were in place for Chennai City. Members of the City Corporation answered that they were. The Revenue Department representative added that the Anna Institute of Management (AIM) was consulting with the TNSPC in the creation of a State Disaster Management Plan. Members of the AIM were also present. Dr Rajagopalan suggested that members of civil society should also be consulted in the formulation of this plan, in order to conduct a gender audit of disaster management policies.

The Director of AIM pointed out that it had been useful to have AIM step in, since the formulation of this plan had been shunted from department to department earlier.

Ms Gopalan noted the cyclone shelters lying empty in Andhra Pradesh because there was no community ownership of the shelters. The Director of AIM pointed out that specialized shelters were unlikely to work effectively. Rather, the creation of multipurpose centres would be recommended.

Members of the TN Disaster Management Agency gave an overview of their plan to increase community ownership of shelters by transforming schools, community halls and training centres into shelters. The Revenue Department and the Public Works Department would maintain these shelters, with committees at the community level.

Dr Rajagopalan closed the discussion with a quick highlight of the main questions.

photo 18

In the news: Honour killings in Tamil Nadu


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.”

Irrational remains of another day: “The Dog Matrix” (Article)


Just read this article in this week’s Outlook magazine.

Pushpa Iyengar describes a whole series of obscure rituals that persist in rationalist-run Tamil Nadu. As you will see, most of these involve women, mainly little girls. As usual.

Take a look, anyway. The article is copied and pasted here since files on Outlook’s website is hard to track back to after a while. But here is the link if you should look right away.

Pushpa Iyengar, “The Dog Matrix,”
OutlookIndia.com, May 3, 2010.

The ‘Rationalist’ State

  • Men marry dogs
  • Young girls marry frogs, are whipped to exorcise spirits
  • Babies are buried in the sand
  • Coconuts are broken on devotees’ heads
  • A priest sucks blood out of a goat’s throat


Recently, Tamil Nadu got an ‘ISO certification’ from none other than Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. “On many fronts today, Tamil Nadu is a role model for the rest of the country,” he said. “It has attained new heights in rural development and agrarian transformation. It is the hub of India’s dynamic automobile industry, has some of the most modern textile mills and a vibrant services economy.” What the PM could also have mentioned is that if you wish to set up a software park, are looking for excellent medical care or good education, Tamil Nadu is also the place for you.

All in all, it’s a fitting reputation for a state run by parties unhesitatingly committed to rationalism—the credo of the Dravidian movement. Rationalism, indeed, should have been by now implanted in the state’s DNA, given that Dravidian parties have ruled it for 40 years. Even today, in his mid-eighties, Tamil Nadu CM Karunanidhi presides over “self-respect marriages” that are scrupulously shorn of rituals.

And yet every year in Pullipudupet village, a three-hour drive from Chennai, during Kaanum Pongal in mid-January, a girl marries a frog. This is no frog-turns-into-prince-after-being-kissed fairytale. Once married, the frog is released back into a pond, while his “bride”, usually a minor, goes back to school, and marries, much later, a man who will perhaps turn into an alcoholic, and lives unhappily ever after.

That is what happened to seven-year-old Ramana’s great-grandmother, and then to her grandmother. Like them,  Ramana was dressed up as a bride two months ago, for a ritual for which nobody—including the village priest and the headman, Raman, who  selects the “bride”—has any coherent explanation.

“She was even taken in a procession from house to house and the whole Dalit colony divided itself into two groups, with one side being the bride’s family and the other side being the frog’s relatives,” recalls Adilakshi, who was a witness to the festivities. However, the ritual, observed only by Dalits, was aborted because the police stepped in, just as the taali (mangalsutra) was to be tied on the girl. This left Ramana’s mother, Shashi, not relieved—as you might expect—that her daughter was spared this strange fate, but distraught. “Look at her,” she told Outlook, “how weak she has become ever since the marriage was stopped.”

There’s no shortage of such rituals in this so-called rational state, and marrying a frog is a comparatively harmless one when set against others, like burying babies in the sand and having coconuts broken on your head. The coconut-breaker, Periasamy, the chief priest of a temple near Tiruchi, has carried out the ritual for 23 years, and has probably mastered the knack of avoiding serious injuries. Even so, his ministrations leave some devotees bleeding from the head. In another violent annual ritual, at the Sri Achappan temple in Vellampatti in Tiruchi district, young girls are lined up by their own parents before a huge crowd to be whipped by a priest to exorcise evil spirits. Only when they cry out (after their hands are virtually split open), are they “liberated” from the spirits. In a separate annual event held recently, a temple functionary and a woman devotee took sweets out of boiling oil with bare hands, and in an even more bizarre ritual conducted last month, a temple official bit the throat of a goat and sucked its blood. Meanwhile, men have been known to marry, not frogs, but at least in one case, a dog, to atone for some obscure sin.

Official interventions have not made much difference. Ask Thadhampatti village’s administrative officer R. Rama, who was on an inspection round on July 9, 2009, at Periyathadhampatti village— about 45 km from Madurai—where every five years children are briefly buried in the sand to propitiate the deity of the Muthalamman temple in the village. “I did not see anything amiss. But after I went away, 50 children were placed on neem leaves lining pits of 4×2 sq ft, covered with a yellow cloth and the pujari jumped over them, holding the deity on his head.” An even more brazen version of the ritual was carried out in 2002. Babies were buried in the sand for a full minute at the Muthukkuzhi Mariamman temple at Peraiyur in Madurai district in a function presided over by a minister of the then ruling AIADMK.

While the resulting furore led to the banning of that ritual and the sacking of the minister, the three persons involved in the July 2009 incident are out on bail. As the NHRC has pointed out, the beliefs leading to such rituals are deeply held, and social awareness campaigns are the best way forward. But they seem to be largely ineffectual in a state which is said to be a frontrunner in education.

“The urban ethic is yet to penetrate the deep interior of the village,” explains inspector general of police Prateep Philip, who is also project director of a social organisation called Friends of the Police, and has organised ‘Social Justice Tea Parties’ to campaign against untouchability in 37,786 villages covering 1.5 milion people for the last two years. While he sets his faith on multimedia training to dispel the “shibboleths of superstition”, Ovia, a member of the Dravida Kazhagam, the original party that propounded the rational way of life, argues that superstition is actually on the rise, not on the wane. “Lack of ability, fear and greed are pushing people to become more superstitious because in today’s world they want short-cuts.”

She also points out, as many others do, that the stoutly rationalist ideas of Periyar E.V. Ramaswamy are being diluted by his very own followers. They argue, indeed, that a powerful reason why superstition and outlandish rituals flourish is that Tamil Nadu’s current leaders legitimise them by their own practices. Jayalalitha is openly superstitious, observing rahu kalam and crushing lemons under the wheels of her car to neutralise the evil eye; a woman minister in her government once famously wore a dress of leaves to propitiate the gods in Jayalalitha’s favour, while another rolled on the ground for one-and-a-half km for the same reason.

Jayalalitha’s bete noire, current CM Karunanidhi, who projects himself as   Periyar’s intellectual heir, is rumoured to wear his trademark yellow shawl to remain longer in power. The double standard followed by the party was strikingly evident when the CM did not criticise party leaders who performed pujas, and an MLA pulled a temple chariot for the long life of the CM’s political heir, deputy CM M.K. Stalin, on his birthday on March 1. As a DMK source put it: “It’s just like the way our leaders promote Tamil while all the while sending their children to convent schools.”

Why we campaign against gender violence


Take a look at this report in the New Indian Express which highlights the appalling (but not surprising) finding that Tamil Nadu women justify violence more than men.

Nalini Ravichandran, TN women surpass men in justifying wife-beating, The New Indian Express, September 23, 2009.

CHENNAI: A study by International Institute for Population Sciences reveals 51 per cent young men and 56 per cent young women in Tamil Nadu justify wife-beating. Around 8,000 youngsters responded to queries posed in the study conducted between May 2006 and January 2007. The study will be given to the State Health Ministry on Wednesday.


Youngsters from both the sexes justify wife-beating under four circumstances — if a man suspects his wife’s fidelity; if a woman disagrees with her husband’s opinion; if a woman goes out without telling her husband; if a woman refuses to have sexual relations with her husband.


Among unmarried youth, about 31 per cent men believe they will be right in assaulting their wives if they go out without informing them or disagree with their opinion. Beating men in the opinion stakes, 38 per cent women believe they deserve to be beaten if they do not agree with their husbands.

About 36 per cent women feel beating is justifiable when women go out without telling husbands. About 33 per cent married men believe they can hit their wives if they are unfaithful or disagree with them. Among married women, 43 per cent justify being beaten if they fail to inform their husbands while going out.


In the study, more than a quarter of women admitted to being victims of physical violence and about 34 per cent men said they had perpetrated it. 

CHENNAI: A study by International Institute for Population Sciences reveals 51 per cent young men and 56 per cent young women in Tamil Nadu justify wife-beating. Around 8,000 youngsters responded to queries posed in the study conducted between May 2006 and January 2007. The study will be given to the State Health Ministry on Wednesday.


Youngsters from both the sexes justify wife-beating under four circumstances — if a man suspects his wife’s fidelity; if a woman disagrees with her husband’s opinion; if a woman goes out without telling her husband; if a woman refuses to have sexual relations with her husband.


Among unmarried youth, about 31 per cent men believe they will be right in assaulting their wives if they go out without informing them or disagree with their opinion. Beating men in the opinion stakes, 38 per cent women believe they deserve to be beaten if they do not agree with their husbands.

About 36 per cent women feel beating is justifiable when women go out without telling husbands. About 33 per cent married men believe they can hit their wives if they are unfaithful or disagree with them. Among married women, 43 per cent justify being beaten if they fail to inform their husbands while going out.


In the study, more than a quarter of women admitted to being victims of physical violence and about 34 per cent men said they had perpetrated it.