In a Dalit hamlet in Krishnagiri, a ‘kangaroo court’ undermines individuals’ right to love

Allegedly slapping fines and enforcing social boycott of families in which young couples married for love, a local DMK functionary pushes them to penury

Published - December 06, 2022 11:03 pm IST - KRISHNAGIRI

 The site of the Kangaroo court (samudhaya panchayat) in Thogarapalli panchayat in Mathur in Krishnagiri on December 5, 2022.

The site of the Kangaroo court (samudhaya panchayat) in Thogarapalli panchayat in Mathur in Krishnagiri on December 5, 2022. | Photo Credit: Bashkaran N

When Pradeep, a diploma holder, married his then girlfriend, a B.Sc. Botony graduate, it was a union of love, duly registered.  In time, their families accepted the couple, both from the same Dalit community.  But opposition came from an unexpected quarter. The Manayakarar (community head) of the Scheduled Caste village with over 200 households in Thogarapalli panchayat in Mathur held a community ‘court’ and slapped a fine of ₹25,000 on the families of the couple.

Mr. Pradeep’s case would be the beginning of the practice of the levy of ‘fines’ for falling in love by the feudal ‘kangaroo courts’ headed by Arignar, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) union secretary for the Bargur South constituency in the Thogarapalli panchayat.

“In our village, people have had love marriages before too.  But, these penalties started with my marriage after Arignar was made the community head.  That was a huge amount. They threatened to disconnect our water and electricity connection. We were unable to fight and our families paid up ₹25,000 each,” Mr. Pradeep said.  “I even told my uncle, who was then posted at Mathur Police Station, but he suggested I pay and let go of any conflict.”

Tipping point

Venkatesan, 56, a Havildar supervisor posted in Arunachal Pradesh, came to the village a fortnight ago for his mother’s funeral. “After a 12-hour descent by bus from my station in Arunachal, I took a flight to Chennai and then a bus to Mathur. But when I came home, it was a disturbing scene. None from our village was there and my family had to bury my mother by taking the help of outsiders to dig up the grave. That was when we realised there was a social boycott against our family,” Mr. Venkatesan said, breaking down in the middle.

Mr. Venkatesan’s brother’s son married within the same Dalit community in what was a ‘love-cum-arranged marriage’.  The February marriage, however, was met with a similar ‘fine’ from Mr. Arignar’s assembly.  Mr. Venkatesan’s family refused to pay up. “We did nothing wrong. They did not elope. The marriage was blessed by the families, then why would we pay?” Mr. Venkatesan asked.   

But the village adhered to the community diktat. “When we inquired, we were told that if anybody came for the funeral they would have to pay a fine of ₹10,000,” he said.

The ‘kangaroo court’ runs on patriarchal diktat. Its administrators claim to speak for the community with the stated aim of exercising social control. Men set the agenda and women are typically disallowed from participating. The fine of ₹25,000 is a form of enforcing social control and pushes people into penury.  

Karunanidhi’s son had eloped with a girl of the same community and the couple married. When the families were about to reconcile to the elopement and marriage, Mr. Arignar’s ‘kangaroo court’ had a sitting. The two families were slapped with a fine of ₹25,000.

“We married in 2019 and we have two children now. My parents have not visited me. If they do, they will have to pay a fine of ₹10,000,” Charumathi, Mr. Karunanidhi’s daughter-in-law, said. 

The fine pushed Mr. Karunanidhi into penury. He sold off the only milch cow he had to pay off the fine plus ₹600 as thappu (‘penalty upon penalty’).  “My cow was the only source of income. I used to get ₹500 to ₹1,000 a week,” he said. After he sold the cow to pay the fine, he mixes cement on construction sites to earn a living.  “I’m getting old and I can’t do much manual work because of my eyesight,” Mr. Karunanidhi, how has cataracts both eyes, said.   

On February 15, 2021, Mr. Karunanidhi and his family attempted self-immolation outside the Collectorate, calling attention to the continuing social boycott against the family. He filed a complaint at Mathur Police Station against Mr. Arignar for extracting the ‘fine’ and asked for it to be returned. But nothing came of it, he said. 

Social control is manifested in the form of social boycott, and penalties in the form of thappu.

But Mr. Arignar denies the charge of holding illegal katta panchayats. “How can we maintain the sanctity of the social structure without social control? We need a kattamaippu and kattupaadu or else everything will fall apart. Ask anybody in the village, nobody has any complaints.  We use the fine of ₹25,000 for public good — for the temple festival, and to help people during deaths in the family,” he said.

According to Kathir, director, Evidence, a civil rights organisation that predominantly takes up Dalit issues, this is a form of collective social violence enforced through unlawful assembly — katta panchayat and extortion by an organised mob that runs on feudal patriarchy. “Such villages enable all kinds of patriarchal oppression, insulating its people from the rule of law, and similar to caste oppression,” Mr. Kathir said.

“This is worse because there is a whole community involved, which means a Collector and Superintendent of Police should inspect the spot.  What if he is a DMK man? When a party speaks of ‘Dravidian model and social justice’, it should act against him,” he added.  

Mr. Venkatesan’s family filed a complaint of social boycott with the Mathur Police Station on November 26, and Mr. Kathir says they were called for an inquiry on December 11.  However, as of Monday evening, the family was also asked by the community heads to not “escalate the issue” till Thursday, when another assembly will be convened. 

When contacted, Murugan, Inspector, Mathur Police Station, claimed there is a “political motive behind the allegations and there were no such fines”, contradicting Mr. Arignar’s own statement to The Hindu.  

The Hindu also contacted Prabhu, president of Thogarapalli panchayat. “Yes, all that is true, but we cannot interfere. With my being an MBC (Most Backward Class), if we interfere, it will become a communal issue,” Mr. Prabhu said.

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