The Hindu Profiles | On terror financing, political storm in Manipur and Kausalya Shankar

Udumalpet honour killing | Kausalya Shankar: The woman who lived

March 13, 2016. It was a lazy Sunday afternoon, until a CCTV footage of an unknown couple hacked by mercenaries in broad daylight in the town of Udumalpet in Tiruppur district started to make the rounds. Soon, it would emerge as a spine-chilling case of “honour” killing carried out by the family of a Caste Hindu girl for marrying a Dalit man. The victims Shankar, and his wife of 10 months, Kausalya, were in a pool of blood. While Shankar died on the spot, Ms. Kausalya survived. Udumalpet killing would become the first case from Tamil Nadu to make it to the National Crime Records Bureau’s crime listed as an ‘honour’ killing that year.

In December 2017, a Tiruppur sessions Court handed down a landmark judgement that came down on the blight of murder in the name of honour by sentencing the main accused Chinnasamy, father of Ms. Kausalya, along with five others to death. Two others were given double life terms and a five-year term, respectively. Ms. Kausalya’s mother Annalakshmi and three others were acquitted.

Also read | Of love and honour killings

However, on June 22, the Madras High Court overturned the sessions court verdict and acquitted Chinnasamy and two others. The death sentences of the hired killers was commuted to 25 years in jail. The High Court had faulted the Prosecution for failing to prove conspiracy.

Ms. Kausalya, from the Thevar community, had met Shankar when they were in college. Their friendship blossomed into love by the time Shankar was in final year. When her family got wind of their friendship, they prepared to marry her off, forcing the couple to elope in 2015. The tranquillity of her 10-month-long marriage to Shankar was punctuated by kidnap attempts, threats, unsolicited visits by her family members and culminating in the killing of Shankar in March 2016. That summer Sunday afternoon, Ms. Kausalya had taken Shankar to the store to buy him a shirt for his college annual day the following day.

Also read | From victim to crusader: the story of Kausalya Shankar

In the earliest testimony in 2016, Ms. Kausalya recorded the rabid caste pride that ran in her family. Her mother’s first query was, “what was his caste?” and “how it was blasphemous to bear the seed of a Dalit man”. In the four years since, from a victim of a caste-hate killing, Ms. Kausalya reinvented herself into an activist pledged to subvert caste supremacy. She founded a foundation in Shankar’s name to teach neighbourhood children, read up on Ambedkar and Periyar, gave speeches, learnt the art form of parai, once condemned a profane art form; found love and married a parai artist, incidentally a caste Hindu, in a self-respect ceremony.

Vile criticism

This last act of hers subjected her to vile criticism. Of this, she would ask, “how was this patriarchy different from the caste Hindu patriarchy that dictated who I should marry? It was something as basic as wanting someone to care for you, when you’re sick.” On June 22 morning, Ms. Kausalya had called Shankar’s father Velusamy, whom she calls Appa (father), and sobbed over the phone over the High Court’s acquittal of her father Chinnasamy. The verdict also increased her resolve to make it her life’s mission to secure justice for Shankar.

Editorial | Undesirable acquittal: On Udumalpet Shankar murder case

After Monday's verdict that exonerated the family's role in the killing, A. Kathir, executive director at Evidence, an organisation that works with victims of caste-hate crimes, who had led Ms. Kausalya’s legal fight, remembers late Justice Krishna Iyer's observations on the guiding principle of courts in rendering justice. “Krishna Iyer said court has a conscience and it will always know the facts. In some cases, victims will have a disadvantage, and the accused an advantage. But the courts will have to prod through that advantage enjoyed by the accused and walk that extra mile to mitigate the disadvantage of the victim to consciously render justice.”

“I haven’t fought for any case like this. There are Thevar Facebook pages that crowdsourced funds for the accused,” said Mr. Kathir, who had a bounty on his head in Usilampatti after the sessions court verdict in 2017. While the High Court said the prosecution could not prove conspiracy, the question flagged by Ms. Kausalya and Mr. Kathir was what was the motive for the hired killers to kill. “I will continue to fight till Shankar gets justice,” Ms. Kausalya said after the verdict.

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Printable version | May 11, 2021 3:02:57 AM |

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