Feudal retribution and public humiliation have snapped short the life of an 18-year-old Dalit girl at Thiruchenkaatankudi in Nagapattinam.

Her ‘crime'? ‘Abetment' of a love affair that led to the elopement of a friend with a boy of the same Dalit caste.

Devi, a Dalit, was driven to self-immolation following a public inquiry by the samudaya panchayat (caste panchayat) headed by a 32-year-old community head (naatamai). She was subjected to lashes with a tamarind stick that was delivered by the Odum Pillai (traditional news carrier) of the caste panchayat.

The humiliation drove her to self-immolation within minutes after the meeting. After a ten-day battle, Devi succumbed to the burns at Government Hospital here on Monday.

At Thiruchenkaatankudi, her family stands wronged by their own community.

“We lost our mother when Devi was three-years-old and I brought her up. The day she was publicly whipped and humiliated was also her birthday,” recalls Usha, the 26-year-old eldest of the five daughters of the family.

Devi was the fourth daughter and migrant worker in a garment factory at Tirupur, where the girl from the same village married the boy of the same caste.

Following this, Devi was ‘summoned' back to the village for a community ‘inquiry' for transgression.

“Usually, lashes are delivered below the knees. But, my sister was whipped with the stick on her chest, stomach and thighs over six times. I noticed the bruises only later and this worsened her chances of recovering from the burn injuries as well,” says Pushpalatha, the youngest sister.

Almost all villages in East Thanjavur region are said to host such samudaya panchayats. These are extra-legal community panchayats, where women are not allowed to participate.

According to information gathered by Evidence, a Madurai-based NGO, the tamarind stick (puliankucchi) was kept immersed in water for three days to add weight to it so as to cause bruises.

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