For a State with relatively appreciable socio-economic indicators and a legacy of many social reform movements, Tamil Nadu has struggled to effectively deal with caste-based discrimination and violence. One of the more horrific forms this violence takes has been the so-called ‘honour’ killings, where young men and women, more often the latter, are brutally murdered by their own relatives for the crime of falling in love with someone from another caste. Just 20 days ago, the police in Thoothukudi district cracked a two-year-old case and recovered the body parts of a 17-year-old girl, who had been killed by her uncles for being in a relationship with a Dalit man.
It is in this context that the 360-km walk organised by the Tamil Nadu Untouchability Eradication Front (TNUEF) assumes such importance in the social and political sphere in Tamil Nadu. The walk, led by TNUEF General Secretary K Samuel Raaj, concluded on June 22 in Chennai with a ‘March to the City’ demanding the passing of an act specifically against ‘honour’ killings. Over 300 people, including CPI(M) Tamil Nadu Secretary G. Ramakrishnan, courted arrest in the struggle on the final day. The government invited the TNUEF for discussions on this issue on June 29.
The walk began on June 9 in Salem and was inaugurated by P. Sampath, president of the TNUEF and was attended by Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) leader Thol. Thirumavalavan. On the first day, families of five victims of ‘honour’ killings attended the event. The event was also joined by Kausalya, whose husband Sankar was brutally hacked to death in the middle of the road in Tiruppur district, an ‘honour’ killing that shook the conscience of the State. Over 80 people from all walks of life participated in the walk from the beginning to the end.
The participants walked for nearly 25 km every day and concluded the day’s march with a public meeting in four districts. On June 21st, at a public meeting in Chennai, freedom fighter and communist legend N. Sankaraiah and retired judge Hariprathaman addressed the gathering.
Anticaste.in spoke to K Samuel Raaj, General Secretary of the Tamil Nadu Untouchability Eradication Front, on the motivation and aims behind the Walk and on the experience gained from it. This is what he had to say:
“The most significant incident that spurred this march was the death of Gokulraj in 2015. Earlier, such murders would be committed by families or gangs hired by families. Gokulraj was murdered by a caste-based organisation in a planned manner. This strengthened the demand for a law specifically against ‘honour’ killings. The purpose of this march was two-fold. On the one hand, there was a demand addressed to the government. On the other, the walk also aimed at addressing the public directly and stirring their conscience. That is what Kausalya, the wife of Sankar, who was murdered in Udumalapettai, did when she addressed the public meeting in Tindivanam.
The families of eight victims participated – Abhirami, the wife of Marimuthu, Nandini’s mother, Aishwarya’s father, Gokulraj’s mother Chitra, Vimaladevi’s husband and Kalaiselvi’s sister in Salem; Sankar’s wife Kausalya in Tindivanam and Kalpana’s husband Sargunam in Chennai.
One of the key features of the walk was that we involved organisations fighting against caste across the political spectrum – ranging from the VCK and the BSP in many areas to organisations such as the Adi Tamilar Katchi, Adi Tamilar Peravai, Dravidar Viduthalai Kazhagam, Makkal Viduthalai Kazhagam, Puratchi Ambedkar Nutandu Iyakkam and Mannurumai Kuttamaippu.
One of the experiences from the walk as well as from our activity is that there is a groundswell of support when we talk to people about annihilating caste. Common people from across the board in all walks of life, who support various political parties, have contributed to our fund collection and have supported our walk in so many ways. From the policeman on the march, who was talking on the phone in a fascinated tone describing our struggle for a country with just one caste to businessmen along the way who supplied refreshments for free and the cadre of various organisations who worked very hard to support us during the walk, the walk was widely cheered.
Thus, most people see caste as a disturbance. But in order to fight caste, a massive people’s movement is needed on a sustained basis. Only then can the mindset of people change.
This is especially relevant when various caste organisations have ramped up their efforts to mobilise their communities and further divisions. Among their key strategies is to claim to be protectors of the ‘honour’ of women. They also indulge in this by spreading rumours of men from other castes marrying women of their community and abandoning them. Such groups are also spending large amounts of money and resources in generating false “histories” of their communities and seeking to canonise what are nothing but legends and rural tales. Many of these activities are taking place in the northern districts of Tamil Nadu where an economic crisis prevails due to drought and economic crisis. These groups seek to channel popular anger into caste mobilisation. While the number of such individuals engaging in these acts is still small, there is the dire need to launch campaigns against them.
Inter-caste marriage is one of the most powerful blows that can be struck against this system and such marriages are on the rise, which is why such groups are so bitterly against it. Unfortunately, the government still hasn’t taken enough action. In fact, Tamil Nadu government refuses to acknowledge that any ‘honour’ killings has taken place. Part of the reason is in the fact that mainstream political parties see benefit in the status quo continuing; it is an excellent way of mobilising votes. Disrupting the caste system could be counter-productive for them.
As far as the law is concerned, there is a very dire need to protect those couples who are in inter-caste marriages. There is also a need for ensuring alternative forms of livelihood for them as well as financial assistance. These steps will go a long way in ensuring more such marriages occur. But on the social front, there is a need to make the issue of a ‘honour’ killings a mainstream issue as well. It is only then that the State and the political fraternity will be forced to respond.”
In the aftermath of the walk, representatives of the Tamil Nadu Untouchability Eradication Front met Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edapadi K. Palaniswami with a 14-point charter of demands. The struggle continues.