Murderous pride: On Dalit youth Gokulraj murder case

The sentencing of the convicts in a caste murder case in Tamil Nadu is a rare blow for substantive justice

Published - March 14, 2022 12:50 am IST

The recent sentencing of the leader of a caste outfit to life-long imprisonment has brought some closure to the horrific killing of a Dalit youth in western Tamil Nadu in 2015, purportedly committed to uphold the pride of a dominant caste. Unlike most emblematic cases of such ‘killings for honour’, the murder of V. Gokulraj, an engineering student, was not done by or at the instance of the family of a girl belonging to the dominant caste. Rather, it was by a gang led by S. Yuvaraj, who ran his own caste outfit and did not know either the victim or his friend, but had chanced upon them engaged in a conversation in a temple. It was likely that he sought to create a sense of awe among his own community’s youth by seizing on the opportunity to punish a man from a downtrodden community. After a quick interview to ascertain their caste status, he sent away the girl, who belonged to his own community, escorted by a couple from his own group. In a chilling sequence of events, Yuvaraj and his accomplices abducted the youth in their vehicle and devised a plan on the fly to kill him and make it appear to be a suicide. They forced him to talk about taking his own life and recorded it on a phone, and even dictated a ‘suicide note’ to be planted later on his body. After strangling him to death at an isolated spot, Yuvaraj severed his head and tossed the torso on a railway track and the head nearby.

Yuvaraj, who ran a group called Dheeran Chinnamalai Gounder Peravai, emerged as a key suspect after CCTV footage near the temple showed him and his accomplices leaving the temple with Gokulraj. Over the next few weeks, it was clear that Yuvaraj was after popularity, as during the three months he was absconding, he made public recorded messages and even appeared in a television discussion. Ultimately, this chutzpah proved to be his undoing, as he confirmed on air that he had confronted the couple at the temple but claimed he had left them there. The law, however, went by the principle that the accused with whom a slain victim was last seen, must explain his absence satisfactorily. The investigation saw some setbacks, when a DSP probing it died by suicide, while during trial, several witnesses turned hostile. The victim’s mother, V. Chitra, who obtained an order from the Madras High Court to transfer the trial from Namakkal to Madurai, Special Public Prosecutor B.B. Mohan and investigators who compiled technical and forensic evidence deserve plaudits for the successful prosecution. In a State where prosecutions under the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act often flounder, the sentencing of 10 persons, all for the remainder of their lives, is a rare blow for substantive justice.

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