Last year, on the 14th of March, Shankar was murdered for marrying Kausalya, a girl from the Kallar community in Tamil Nadu. Shankar was a Dalit from Kumaralingam village in Udumalpet; Kausalya, a Thevar from Palani, belongs to an OBC caste with social and political clout in the state. On that day, both of them were attacked by a group of 5 men armed with weapons. Shankar died on the spot succumbing to the injuries. Kausalya’s father surrendered to the local police, and confessed to the murder.
Now, a year later, after going through the trauma of loss, Kausalya has decided to come out and fight the system of caste, the primary reason for the death of Shankar. Today, Kausalya is 20-years old. She has decided to work with women’s organisations in the area. These organisations fight for the rights of women in a patriarchal society and steadfastly oppose the archaic and barbaric practice of honour killing. “There is plenty of work for me to do in this society now. I believe that I must fight against that which took Shankar away from me” says Kausalya. “Several organisations are working towards this cause, I have decided to work along with them” she added.
Although Kausalya says that “(a) change in mindset is required to stop honour killings”, she also warns young couples who have married outside their caste to be cautious. She says, “People who have had love marriages like me, should be as safe as possible. They should not be careless and they must expect the possibility of anything happening to them.” On that fateful day, the couple was coming out of a shop after purchasing a shirt for the up-coming annual day at Shankar's college. Shankar was murdered on the street. Stressing the precarious condition of a caste-ridden society, she feels that young couples “should not simply walk on the streets” carelessly.
“All India Democratic Women’s Association honoured me, Abhirami and other women for bravely fighting against this patriarchal and castiest system” said Kausalya. “Like me, even Abhirami has lost her husband. She is also fighting against this practice of honour killings” she adds. Like Kausalya, Abhirami also belongs to the Kallar caste. She had married a Dalit man, Marimuthu, with the support of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in 2010. After a life of struggle in Chennai, and the birth of their daughter, Soundaraya, the couple returned to their village to live with Marimuthu’s family. However, just before Soundaraya’s first birthday, Marimuthu’s body was found hacked to pieces near the river. After confessing to the murder, Abhirami’s father and brother gave themselves up to the police.
On 4th of July 2013, a 19-year old Dalit boy, Ilavarasan, was found dead by the railway tracks in Dharmapuri. A year ago, on the 8th of October in 2012, Ilavarasan had married Divya, a girl from the powerful Vanniyar caste. Responding to this case, Kausalya says, “We have no news of Divya, where she is and what she is doing. So, to mobilise all the women who have been victims of honour killings, we need to create a force. But that is not going to be easy.” If such a force was made, however, she felt that it would be a very powerful one.
In the land of Dravidian politics which takes pride in its history of women's empowerment, why is blood being shed in the name of honour? We asked her this only to hear that the condition of women is bad, here and everywhere, as it is bound to be in a patriarchal society. She says, “If [it were] not for Periyar and others, I don’t know if the state of women would be even as much as it is today.”
Over the last one year, Kausalya has been recovering from the injuries she suffered after the attack. She has also received counselling to recover from the traumatic experience of being attacked and witnessing her husband's murder. Meanwhile, she has been fighting the case against her parents and relatives for the murder of her husband. At one stage, she had even attempted suicide. But now, she has entered the public sphere in her fight against a casteist society that was responsible for the death of Shankar.
After clearing the exam, Kausalya has now obtained a central government job in the Ministry of Defence. She considers Shankar’s grandmother, father and two younger brothers, her family.
Kausalya has taken to keeping her hair short and wearing jeans and T shirt. When asked why she changed her appearance, she said, “There is a societal view that women should project themselves in a certain way. I have changed the way I look and my hairstyle in defiance of these norms”.
With pride, she also says, “I am learning parai. I am also learning Karate”. She wants to popularise the drum-like instrument parai, associated with Dalits and other oppressed sections and make it acceptable for everyone. Kausalya has been invited to speak on Ambedkar Jayanthi at an event in Chennai. She considers being a part of events like these an important task. She said that, “Ambedkar struggled to annihilate caste. He fought for the downtrodden people, and strove to attain equality for all in society.”