(This article talks about the alleged murder of a Paraiyar girl, Gogila, by her family because of her love marriage with an Arunthathiyar boy, Karthikeyan, in a village in Villupuram district, Tamil Nadu. Apart from a small report in Junior Vikatan, the Tamil magazine, there has been absolute silence in the media over this tragic incident. Information for this article was primarily gleaned from conversations with Karthikeyan, the victim's husband, his family, and the news report.)
Before going into the issue I want to discuss certain issues related to the discrimination and the tension prevailing among Dalit sub-castes in Tamil Nadu. These tensions can be found in all states in India. In Tamil Nadu, Paraiyars, Pallars and Arunthathiyars are the major sub-castes among Dalits. Paraiyars are advanced in education compared with other sub-castes, Pallars have a little land in some places, and Arunthathiyars are engaged in leather working and scavenging. Pallars and Paraiyars in Tamil Nadu look down upon Arunthathiyars. However it doesn't mean that the way they look at the Arunthathiyars is similar to the way the Vanniyars or Gounders or Thevars see Arunthathiyars. In some pockets of Tamil Nadu, there are places where these sub-castes do have a mutual understanding and live together; but it does not mean that across Tamil Nadu they live with good understanding. Some of the educated Paraiyars have been doing enough damage to the relationship between the sub-castes. Take the example of the prominent intellectuals of Paraiyars in Tamil Nadu: none have said even a single line that all are Scheduled Castes. Let this be as it is. One point has to be made clear that across Tamil Nadu, any Arunthathiyar man marrying a Paraiyar or Pallar girl will never be accepted by the Paraiyar or Pallar communities.
Even before the odour of the burning homes in Dharmapuri has completely dissipated, some casteist Paraiyars in a Villupuram village have shown the same behavior as the Vanniyars. This incident took place in Pallinellinoor village near Kandamangalam in Villupuram district. The village comprises of 40 Paraiyar houses and 3 Arunthathiyar houses. On November 10th, Mr. Karthikeyan approached the local police station with the complaint that his wife was murdered by her own father and relatives.
Karthikeyan worked for daily wages and he says:
"Eight years ago, Ms. Gogila and I studied together in the Kandamangalam Vallalar high school. Since then we are in love. We both belong to Scheduled Castes, but different sub-castes. She is a Paraiyar and I belong to the Arunthathiyar sub-caste. Since her parents would not agree to the marriage, we got secretly married, which was registered on 1.12.2010 in Kadallur. However we both agreed to live separately till we get our parents to agree to our marriage. Ms. Gogila was working with a company related to medicine, and we both used to meet often.
Her parents came to know about the marriage recently. Immediately they planned to marry her off to someone and were looking for a groom. Ms. Gogila strongly opposed the move, therefore she was sent to her uncle's house. In her uncle's house, she was brutally attacked and was asked to agree to another marriage, but she disagreed. Suddenly on 8th Nov 2012, they told her that we will unite you and your husband and brought her back to her house. For three days they kept her in an isolated room, and demanded that she commit suicide. All these conversations were conveyed by Ms. Gogila to me and I have also evidence of the same (that these incidents did happen).
On the evening of 9th November, I called Ms. Gogila. Her mobile was switched off. In the morning I was told that Ms. Gogila had died.
Ms. Gogila was murdered by her parents. Therefore I immediately approached the police station and gave a complaint. The station Inspector came to the village and wanted to collect the body but they (her family) strongly resisted and the Inspector failed to collect the body. The parents burnt the body. Now their parents and others are constantly calling me to take the complaint back from the police station or else I would meet the same fate as Ms. Gogila."
The Junior Vikatan report (translated) says:
When I (the reporter) spoke to Ms. Gogila's friends, they said: "It is true that Gogila was in love with Karthikeyan and they got married. Mr. Karthikeyan used to take her to her workplace on his bike every now and then. She also used to say that we got married and our parents don't know about that. If they come to know there would be a serious problem. However in recent times, she used to say that she is going to tell her father about her marriage. But she never told him. If we asked her about it, she would reply 'that my father lives proudly and my marriage might hurt his pride. Therefore I do not want my father or parents to face any problem because of me'. She was a strong woman full of courage and she would say that she will live with him."
The village has a strong presence of Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) cadres and they are keeping silent on this issue. What does that mean?
I am so surprised that no one is speaking about it. The internet is flooded with news on the horrific tragedy of Dharmapuri, but there is very little on this issue. This is not the first such case in Tamil Nadu where Arunthathiyars faced discrimination from fellow Dalits from the Paraiyar community. The above incident, in my view, is not only about caste violence but it is about both gender and caste violence, resulting from the caste prejudice which dictates that a well-off Paraiyar woman should not marry a sweeping community boy. So many fact finding missions have gone to Dharmapuri, but this issue has attracted none. Why?
Dalit movement and intellectuals keep on saying that Dharmapuri is an example of caste violence, but they fail to see the gender violence behind the tragedy which had transformed into caste violence. Certainly every community seems to want to control its population numbers and they see women (marrying outside the community) as a threat and also as easy targets for their male chauvinism.
There are many such incidents where Arunthathiyar men marrying Paraiyar women were murdered or their sisters were sexually assaulted. We are all talking about the 'love marriage' that was supposedly the cause of the Dharmapuri violence, but its my view that it was not love marriage (that caused the incident) but the entrenched prejudice that marriages between women from dominant communities and men from lower communities should not be allowed that caused the violence. In Tamil Nadu, Vanniyars are opposing their women marrying Paraiyar men but the Vanniyars have never said that Vanniyar men should not marry Paraiyar women. Basically it is an argument founded on male chauvinism and gender bias, which is the core agenda of every caste organization, may it be of the Paraiyars, Pallars, or even Vanniyars. The present violence would also show that the caste Paraiyars killed their daughter for marrying a lower caste Dalit male.
Finally, why is it that the problems of Arunthathiyars have never gained any public attention in the past or in the present? I strongly feel the Dalit leaders and intellectuals have never tried to take any positive steps towards resolving different sub-caste problems. And thus, they also become silent supporters of violence on Arunthathiyars like in the case of the Villupuram couple.