December 14, 2017 12:06:47 am
The conviction of six persons for the murder of a young Dalit by a trial court in Tirupur, Tamil Nadu, is significant. The trial was completed in less than two years and eight of the 11 accused found guilty. This is the first conviction in a case tried under the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, since its amendment in 2015, which made exclusive special courts mandatory for crimes that come under the purview of the Act. Of course, the convicts may appeal in a higher court, but the trial court convictions carry a larger message: Justice and closure is possible in cases of honour killings.
Shankar, a 22-year-old Dalit engineering student, was hacked to death by relatives of his wife Kausalya, in March last year. Kausalya’s family, who belong to the OBC Thevar community, had disapproved of their marriage. In what appears to have been a bid to protect caste “honour”, a gang sent by Kausalya’s father, Chinnasamy, killed Shankar. The brutal murder was captured on CCTV and the visuals sent shock waves across Tamil Nadu, a state which pioneered anti-caste politics nearly a century ago. Remarkably, the case was fought by Kausalya, while her father was the prime accused. This newspaper does not support capital punishment. But, arguably, the death sentences awarded to six of the eight convicted, including Chinnasamy, suggest that the judiciary recognises honour killing as a heinous crime.
Tamil Nadu represents the strange case of a society regressing to a social condition that it sought to leave behind decades ago. The recurrence of caste violence directed against Dalits, particularly honour killings in recent times, also points to the limits of the anti-caste moblisations the state has seen over the past century. The Self-respect Movement of Periyar and its legatee, the Dravidian Movement, were distinguished by their criticism of the caste system and opposition to the privileging of Brahmins in the social and political order. Political offsprings of the Dravidian Movement, the DMK and AIADMK, rode successful anti-caste mobilisations to win office for over half a century. The non-Brahmin political assertion, however, only managed to transfer political, social and economic power to the OBCs; it failed to build a political imaginary that would accommodate the rights and aspirations of the Dalits, who constitute over 20 per cent of Tamil Nadu’s population.
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