About 20 months after a Dalit youth was hacked to death for marrying a Hindu woman from a higher caste, the Principal District and Sessions court in Tirupur awarded death sentence to six of the 11 accused, including the woman’s father. The court acquitted three accused, including the woman’s mother Annalakshmi and uncle Pandidurai. One accused was awarded life imprisonment, while another was sentenced to five years of rigorous jail term.
The verdict was pronounced on Tuesday by Judge Alamelu Natarajan on a 1,500-page chargesheet filed by police against 11 people booked under seven sections of the IPC and the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. Most of the accused, including the woman’s parents and uncle Pandidurai, were in prison as they were also booked under Goondas Act.
On March 13, 2016, 22-year-old V Shankar was murdered by a gang sent by his wife Kausalya’s father, Chinnasamy, a driver and a local money lender. Shankar and Kausalya met two years before the murder while they were studying at an engineering college in Pollachi. After her family opposed their relationship, she started staying at Shankar’s house.
Shankar was hacked to death about eight months after their marriage, on a day they visited Udumalpet town to buy clothes for his birthday and a farewell party in the college. The footage from a CCTV near the Udumalpet bus stand which captured that murder helped the police nab the culprits. The footage showed Shankar collapsing in a pool of blood after the attack and Kausalya pleading for help.
The CCTV footage that spread through social media triggered protests. Kausalya, who suffered severe head injuries in the attack, chose to stay with Shankar’s family after she was discharged from the hospital.
Days after the attack, Kausalya told The Indian Express that she never expected her parents to get Shankar killed. Shankar’s family comprised a younger brother then on the verge of completing his school education, an elder one pursing a BSc in Computer Science, his father, a daily wage labourer, and his grandmother.
As Kausalya led the legal battle against her own family, several organisations came to her aid. These included All India Democratic Women’s Federation and the Untouchability Eradication Front — both affiliated to CPM; Dalit party VCK, which donated Rs 1 lakh to Shankar’s family, and several NGOs and individuals.
Popular political parties chose not to intervene fearing a backlash from the powerful OBC-Thevar community, to which Kausalya’s family belonged, in the 2016 Assembly polls.
Eventually, it was Kausalya’s statement against her own parents and the gang that played a key role in the conviction of accused.
Six months after her husband’s murder, Kausalya cleared a central government exam and bagged a permanent job. Her legal fight also saw her emerge as an icon of anti-caste movements and a familiar face in collectives against caste and honour killings across the state.
Reacting to the order on Tuesday, Kausalya said, “Although my personal opinion on capital punishment is different, I believe this is a significant judgment against casteist forces. I will file an appeal in the higher court against the acquittals. I will continue this legal battle if the convicts appeal against the order. I will continue this battle till Shankar’s family gets justice,” she said.