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Updated: July 13, 2013 13:22 IST

Killing love with violence and politics

Subhashini Ali
Comment (29)   ·   print   ·   T  T  
Divya. Photo: V. Ganesan
The Hindu
Divya. Photo: V. Ganesan

E. Ilavarasan has killed himself, brutally underscoring the continuing tragedy of young married couples being wrenched apart by caste and political pressures. Indeed, India’s veneer of modernity comes apart each time an inter-caste marriage breaks. And when one half of the couple is Dalit, as in this case, mob fury comes as an inheritance.

When a year ago, news came of the Vanniyar-Dalit inter-caste marriage of Divya and Ilavarasan, now known as the Dharmapuri couple, most observers wondered how long the union would last. The marriage collapsed, and tragically so for the much-in-love couple. Only a few days ago, Ilavarasan had told The Hindu: “We led a happy life and she was happier with me than with her own family. But we have become victims of a political conspiracy.” Divya herself had told the press earlier that she and her husband were under huge pressure and she had decided to sacrifice “my love and my marriage” for the sake of a society that is caste-obsessed. The Pattali Makkal Katchi, which is said to have acted as a pressure group to break up the marriage, denies any overt role, but insists nonetheless that parents must have a say in the marriages of their children.

The unhappy end to a happy marriage takes me to Madurai and to an unusual and, for the most part, joyous occasion. The day was January 24, 2013 and more than a dozen couples, who had entered into inter-caste marriages, facing familial opposition and threats of physical violence, were being felicitated for their courage by the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA). As part of the celebrations, another inter-caste, self-choice marriage was being solemnised on the dais.

Another case in Tamil Nadu

It was the sombre presence of 24-year old Abhirami and the tragic tale that she narrated, however, that brought out the barbarity that lurks very close to the surface of social life in our country. A barbarity that hundreds like her experience, a barbarity that threatened each of the happy couples that had gathered.

Abhirami belongs to the Kallar (OBC) caste and she had joined a Teacher’s Training College in Varothanadu, near her village, Surakotai in Thanjavur district, Tamil Nadu. On the bus to the college, she met and befriended a young Dalit boy, Marimuthu. This was reported to her family who confined her to the house and tried to force her to marry her 35-year-old alcoholic maternal uncle. Abhirami contacted Marimuthu and they eloped.

The hapless young couple went from place to place, and it was only after they met some Communist Party of India (Marxist) members that they could go to Kumbakonam and get married. That was on September 16, 2010. After a life of struggle in Chennai, and the birth of their daughter, Soundaraya, the couple returned to the village to live with Marimuthu’s family. However, just before Soundaraya’s first birthday, Marimuthu was contacted by Abhirami’s brother on the pretext of gifting the child a gold chain. On May 25, 2012, Marimuthu left home to meet his brother-in-law. He did not return.

The next morning, his body, hacked to pieces, was found near the river. Abhirami’s father and brother surrendered to the police confessing to the murder. They were arrested but were soon released because no witness came forward to give evidence against them. Since Abhirami herself belonged to an OBC caste, she was told by the District Collector that she could not claim the compensation payable in cases of Dalit deaths. Fortunately, the case came up before the Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in the course of a public hearing. The NHRC ordered the District Collector to pay a compensation of Rs.5 lakh to the girl and her daughter besides asking him to arrange employment or a plot of land for her survival. Abhirami handed her share of the compensation to her in-laws but she is still to get the promised employment. Her in-laws, who face an economic boycott from the landowning Kallars because of Abhirami, have asked her to leave.

Whether the violence ends in murder, separation or social boycott, it underlines in each case the need for a special legislation to deal with “honour crimes,” a draft of which has been submitted by AIDWA to the Union Government. An Act along the same lines was recommended by the 242nd Law Commission and the recently-released Verma Commission Report, which describes the various aspects of these crimes, including the role of ‘khap’ and caste panchayats, (known as katta panchayats in Tamil Nadu), also supports the Law Commission’s recommendations.

UPA’s weak stance

The United Progressive Alliance Government (UPA), unfortunately, has been completely impervious to the need to deal effectively with these inhuman crimes which are caused by the retrograde practice of caste discrimination and the strong patriarchal structures that this practice reinforces.

On December 18, 2012, the Minister of State for Home Affairs, R.P.N. Singh, made the following statement in the Lok Sabha in response to questions on “honour” crimes: “As per information provided by the National Commission for Women (NCW), in the current financial year, 333 complaints on honour crime have been registered on the basis of complaints of victims and proceedings initiated in all of these cases. Apart from the above, the commission has taken suo motu cognizance in 11 cases of honour killings and initiated necessary action.” When the Minister was asked whether the government proposed to amend the constitution to deal with “honour” killings, he replied that there was no such proposal. He, however, quoted the 242nd Law Commission on the need for a standalone legislation to stop caste councils from issuing diktats to young persons “marrying partners belonging to the same gotra or a different caste/religion.”

The ruling party at the Centre is also the ruling party in Haryana, the site of most of the retrograde activities of the ‘khaps.’ Along with other mainstream parties, the Congress lacks the uncompromising commitment to social and gender equality that is needed to attack the root of the problem, which is the interdependence between the khaps and politically influential caste and communal groups. Political parties need the panchayats for mobilisation of electoral and public support. This has created a destructive mutual dependence that has further strengthened caste and identity-based politics.

A dozen young Indians have already been killed in 2013 in the name of “honour.” Their brutal deaths cry out for effective legal redress.

(Subhashini Ali is a former Member of Parliament from Kanpur for the CPI(M) and a leader of the All India Democratic Women’s Association.)

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each and every citizen of our nation must consider this illavarasan death due to inter-caste system as national issue. we must do something to eradicate caste system.we must long for higher values. only inferior people will adhere to casteism. my request to people of higher caste is that please accept lower caste people, because these poor people are also shaped by God.

from:  Parthiban.D
Posted on: Jul 6, 2013 at 11:13 IST

It is very hard to believe Ilavarasan committed suicide, it is more
likely that he was drugged or killed and his body thrown in front of the
train. May be this is an achievement for certain politicians, but is
indeed a true shame on Tamil Nadu and all Tamilians. When will Tamilians
understand that all people, irrespective of caste and religion, are
human beings and deserve respect and love? May be this tragic story will
change a few minds..

from:  vishwanathan
Posted on: Jul 5, 2013 at 23:19 IST

There are thousands and thousands of victims of sectarian and 'casteist'
politics across India. The couple, Ilavarasan and Divya, is one of them.
When the incident happened even the representatives of the so called
civil society in Madras and other parts of India were silent (I have a
very big doubt about the existence of such a class in Madras).

from:  Kumar
Posted on: Jul 5, 2013 at 22:50 IST

Now a days these cases become very common .Either it is love or arrange marriage these problems are increasing day by day. Becoming the reason to be tensed and this caste system is sucking the country.Why dont people understand that all the humans are human no caste we all are the people of God.

from:  Manan chawla
Posted on: Jul 5, 2013 at 20:47 IST

Time has come for unity not divide. We the people should unite and
abolish caste based system. First and foremost we need to abolish
reservation system which is root cause of all this problem.

from:  Vijay
Posted on: Jul 5, 2013 at 18:31 IST

it is very heart breaking to find that the political and caste dynamics still playing a vital in 2013 indian society,using caste for politics- cannot be tolerated, strong laws must be enforced for inter caste marriage, remove the caste system from india, government should start it,start from school, stop asking caste when admitting a 4 year old kid- thats were the curse starts for india.

from:  Sharath Chandar
Posted on: Jul 5, 2013 at 18:31 IST

Wyy do we call it as an inter caste marriage ?? what fun is there in saying it as inter- or intra- when it has to be a meeting of minds for a relationship to be successful and have the strength to tide over problems of life? what has caste, religion related to success of a marriage? why doesn't this common sense prevail among the so called "intelligent and rational animal" i.e. man... Man is turning into a beast. Politics and society both reinforcing each other.

And in the argument that love marriages all fail and arranged ones stand, it solely depends on the two people in the relation. May society not give way to many such Ilavarasans!

from:  Vakesh
Posted on: Jul 5, 2013 at 18:20 IST

The reason various communities are passionate about their caste is not due to superiority or inferiority of castes but due to political polarization of voters along caste lines which is actively encouraged by various political parties. Constitutional support for various castes is only making this worse. If you notice, including in this case, both Vanniars and Dalits are backward castes, the girl is BC and the boy SC/ST. If caste sentiments are being exploited at this level then how do you expect casteism to disappear?

Every single caste is feeling threatened by the appeasement acts of political parties and are becoming more defensive on caste issues. The various caste-specific laws are equally to be blamed and which should be gotten rid of. Reservation is acting as a curse against the very community it is supposed to serve.

The political sops to various castes has to stop. The political parties have to start looking at issues outside of caste lens.

from:  Bala Subramanian
Posted on: Jul 5, 2013 at 17:55 IST

Modern India? having fancy cars, Iphones and Ipads and being lush
with money does not make modern or developed. For a land that
boast s so many great philosophical thinkers, we are ignorant
populace indeed. Our education and governance riddled with caste
based quotas and politics has let the situation degenerate.
Having been a vicitm of the caste. It does not have to be a dalit
to experience it. I had to move to US for me and my wife to get
on with our lives. Yes for all those criticise US this is what
freedom truly means ability to lead the life the way you choose.
Indian freedom is only for the privileged and to those who abide
by them (over) the love for their children.

from:  Rahul
Posted on: Jul 5, 2013 at 17:43 IST

Had brahmin caste was involved in this,the dravidian leaders & other political outfits would've used "varnashram"issue dragging CM into this. TamilNadu would 've witnessed mass protests etc to unite the couple.

from:  ramachandrasekaran
Posted on: Jul 5, 2013 at 17:11 IST

Love - seems to be most misunderstood and misappropriated word. Activists jumping in the
fray makes it more tortuous and misleading resulting in tragic deaths and lifelong deep suffering to the directly affected and caring families. Ideal is what needs to be pursued not inherently capricious ideological approaches competing with parental affection.

from:  Seshadri
Posted on: Jul 5, 2013 at 16:34 IST

It seems that the casteism in India is hegemonic. We often blame Politicians for this menace. But, it is also evident that there is plethora of hate among the masses over casteism. Let’s hope for the day the menace is rooted out.

from:  Hemant Kumar
Posted on: Jul 5, 2013 at 15:37 IST

The people of Tamilnadu should shun all political parties which are caste based, especially the PMK with its condoning of violence against the downtrodden. Leaders and the followers of PMK in my mind should be treated as the real untouchable, if there was something of that sort, in this land of Mahathma.

from:  rakavan
Posted on: Jul 5, 2013 at 15:18 IST

It's very unlikely that the guy who has stood strong in dire circumstances yielded to ending his life this way. There seems to be a foul play involved. Not matter what , it is a very tragical end to the love story. Despite contemplating about what should have been done to protect the couple, its time one look at the way honor killings are common in our country. May this couple's tragic story not end in vain and be a eyeopener to us.

from:  kalyan
Posted on: Jul 5, 2013 at 14:59 IST

It is very sad and unfortunate that one more youth has died bacause of this caste system. The way in which Divya left him alone under so called pressure of parentas or politics is also not appreciable. One shall think hundered times before entering this relationship bacouse lots of courage is required to stand against this blind society. But once entered then shall never back out ,as intercast marriage are the only solution to this cast problem and one contribute to eliminate this curse of society if he/she is able to make his intercast marriage successful.

from:  Lakhbir Chand Arya
Posted on: Jul 5, 2013 at 12:17 IST

I think The Hindu should start a campaign against casteism. It is definitely challenging but will really be a great cause.

I really feel bad for the couple. There is no blaming the couple...but the society and the divisiveness prevailing in the state and its politics. People should be allowed to marry whomever they want to marry. Its a person's basic right. We have these gross human rights violation and no body is behind bars paying the price. Such a shame!

from:  Shalini
Posted on: Jul 5, 2013 at 12:14 IST

really unfortunate incident, even in the 21st century we are witnessing such type of cases on day to day basis.we are dreaming to be the superpower, but let me remind to the people of this country that till the time our society is fragmented on the basis of cast/religion our dream to became super power will elude us. we have to understand that this cast system has not benifited us in any way insted it has destroyed our society. we were ruled by foreginer for thousand of year because our society was devided in to various cast and we were unable to stand united and fought our enemy. if our political parties contunies to work on the cast politics we are gong to end nowhere. we must understand that every citizen of this country has right to marry with his/her choice and we must allow them to live peacefully otherwiase we might endup like Pakistan no rule of law and we will also be a "failed nation".

from:  Dherandr
Posted on: Jul 5, 2013 at 11:48 IST

Honour killing is not going to end in near future as the political
class has no courage to punish the culprit so as to intact their vote
bank based on caste, But first the term should change from honour
killing as there is no aspect for honour in it and second thing which
is required is strict regulation of Khap Panchayat. Killing someone
violates the fundamental right mentioned in article 16 and 21 of the
Constitution. Law has to be made to stop this and it is not congress
alone which lacks commitment, rather is whole of the political class
which needs to come together against it.

from:  Akshay Dhadda
Posted on: Jul 5, 2013 at 11:11 IST

The cause of death of I. Ilavarasan is not clear yet. Therefore it is
incorrect to assume that he killed himself. Now it is high time for
us(Indians) to stand up against such brutalities which silence harmless
individual freedom for the sake of age-old illogical traditions.

from:  Madhulika Samanta
Posted on: Jul 5, 2013 at 11:09 IST

this is brutal.. in this century also they are unable to digest the
inter caste marriages means we are going backwards...pity on them...

from:  spandana
Posted on: Jul 5, 2013 at 10:49 IST

Strong and effective legislative measures are needed against honor killings.Intercaste and
inter religious marriages are common in cities but still taboo in villages where Goons in the
name of Pradhans take law into their hands.When land reform act was passed and
implemented by the Communists in Kerala,it was thought unimplimentable.With the tenants
involvement and strong implementation of land reform act,now there are no tenants in
Kerala.Intercaste marriages are common in Kerala and what is happening in Tamil Nadu are
unthinkable here.The reasons are role of social reformers like Sri Narayana Guru,Mannath
Padmanabhan,Kelappaji and visit and preachings of Gandhiji.Communists played a major
role.The major political parties in Tamil Nadu like ADMK and DMK should come forth with a
major policy paper on Intercaste marriages.Thiruvalluvar,Periyar,Annadurai ,MGR and many
men of wisdom and of masses favored equality ,equity and co-existence.In the instant case
law may take its own course.

from:  Dr K V Peter
Posted on: Jul 5, 2013 at 09:09 IST

The boy's end is really saddening..The girl's somersault decision
about continuing her relationship with her husband whom she had chosen
on her own as life partner was really shocking..Two lives were lost..
Tension prevailed on both sides..The families of both the boy and the
girl did think only of their so-called status,prestige,community pride
but never thought of allowing the couple to live. Everyone involved
was at fault? Or is it because of the couple's immature decision? Or
is it because of the society was not mature enough to recognise or
guarantee the union of the young couples? Or is it because of failure
of our educational system in making matured citizens? Or is it because
of our short-sightedness and inability to foreseefuture? Both families
could have been magnanimous enough in finding out practical solution
but did not happen.Literacy failed. Humaneness dead. Angry, tension
and fighting cost two precious lives and ruined a girl's life. What
else the society wants still ?

Posted on: Jul 5, 2013 at 07:47 IST

Ms. Ali is a veteran leader and a social activist and makes a powerful point. The existing
social system is such a bigotry that, humans are never treated with respect fr what they are
and what values they stand up for. It is always about caste ! Getting married to an alcoholic
of same caste is acceptable, than a well educated dalit boy ???. The moment the lawyers of
both PMK and VCK got involved in the Divya case, the clash of egos took kver and this sad
conclusion became inevitable. My heart bleeds for Ilvarasan !

from:  Gajamani
Posted on: Jul 5, 2013 at 07:26 IST

There is another angle to this issue. Inter-caste marriages alone can
break the caste segregation in Indian society. So, promoting it implies
overcoming casteism while being helpless in avoiding such honor crimes
imply strengthening the casteism. Thus the rationale lies for opposition
to Khaps, security for inter-caste couples.

from:  Mahesh J
Posted on: Jul 5, 2013 at 07:09 IST

I request the esteemed paper to institute a study, why the Tamilians having such intelligence,high level of education, discipline in their blood become so involved with casteism .In the latest incident involving foreign relations, even the Tamilnadu assembly passed resolution involving another sovereign nation of Srilanka without going into the full issues!If carried out by our government,it will even bring disaster to us more to Tamilnadu as this nation Srilanka would encourage divisive forces to take on us opening another front like Jammu and Kashmir!It is because after LTTE history they have got nothing to fear!

from:  atis
Posted on: Jul 5, 2013 at 07:07 IST

What ever the society and the intellectuals say,the parents of the concerned are the wright persons to decide their wards life/marriage.Just tell me what the society now will do in this case? People will read and forget,only their parents have to struggle for the whole of their life.
And I don't understand the writer blaming the ruling party,now may be the UPA,but can she give guarantee that if the UPA is voted out of power such cast murders won't happen?

from:  V.Shanmuganathan
Posted on: Jul 5, 2013 at 06:59 IST

How the hell did you so well confirmed that Ilavarasan killed himself? Before even an inquiry into the circumstances of his death is conducted by competent authorities and results are out you just happened to be, with a malicious intend or not, blurting out your opinion in an op-ed in a newspaper that is known for probity and accuracy. Whatever point you make in your essay is meaningless in light of such an unverified opening statement.

from:  Kumar W
Posted on: Jul 5, 2013 at 06:12 IST

It is an irony every party pays homage to Periyar but fails to promote any of his social transformation programmes. He advocated inter-caste marriages but the 'so-called' followers are caste maniacs. The suicide of a young and dynamic Ilavarasan should be a wake-up call to end such tragedies.d

from:  ssrajagopalan
Posted on: Jul 5, 2013 at 05:05 IST

Even after 65 years of independence and tall talks by so called "secular" political leaders things have not improved at the grass root level. What a shame? Tamil Nadu had a reformist leader like Periyar who started the campaign against caste system and even went to an extend that Brahmins are responsible and they are not Dravidians and they migrated from North of India. Strangely enough no leaders of Tamil Nadu objected to these sort of propaganda at that time. After his death many regional parties like DMK, DK, AIADMK,PMK,etc are all started with caste basis and each on concentrating on the Vote Banks of the caste they are patronizing . Congress also aided such parties to have their support at Central. The whole society is divided only on caste, religion, backward , forward etc. We are still backward in our thinking and education and social media has failed to eradicate these sort of divisions in the society. When are we going to call ourselves as Indians first and all are equals.

from:  Narayanan Krishnan
Posted on: Jul 5, 2013 at 04:35 IST
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