Chennai cops hold Dalit man over complaint by wife’s father after inter-caste marriage

Gurusamy, a Dalit, and Sudoroli belonging to Reddiar caste, had been married since October 13, 2022 but he was picked up by the police on November 26 and made to spend a night in detention.
Representative image of a couple
Representative image of a couple

Gurusamy, a young Dalit PhD scholar, had to spent nearly 24 hours in police custody based after his wife’s father filed a ‘missing person’ complaint and levelled allegations of theft. Gurusamy’s wife, Sudoroli, who belongs to the Reddiar caste (Backward Class) is by no means missing. They have been married since October 13 this year. 

In multiple letters to police officials and to the Pollachi magisterial court, 23-year-old Sudoroli, had declared that she had left her home on her own free will. She also submitted marriage documents and relevant proof of age to show that she is an adult and legally married. The woman also wrote to the Rajamangalam police station, asking them to stop investigating the missing person’s case. But, ever since she first told her parents that she was in love with Gurusamy, the couple have faced harassment.

In her petition submitted to the Pollachi magisterial court, Sudoroli gives a detailed account of the kind of harassment they faced. After their marriage, Sudoroli’s father, Govindhan, registered a complaint at the Rajamangalam police station in Chennai, alleging that his daughter was missing. He also accused his daughter and Gurusamy of theft in the same FIR. The couple and their lawyer, Sudha Gandhi, have refuted the claims repeatedly and said so in written statements to the police and to the court. Yet, it wasn’t until pressure from anti-caste activists, including Kowsalya, that police finally agreed to release Gurusamy on Sunday, November 27. Sudha Gandhi, while speaking to TNM, said his detention was the latest instance of harassment they faced after Sudoroli’s family found out about the couple. The lawyer had approached a senior officer for intervention.

In her petition, Sudoroli said she and Gurusamy fell in love a year and a half ago at Madras University where she was pursuing a Masters in English. Guru was enrolled as a PhD candidate at the university. “Once my parents came to know that I was in love, they sought to keep me in house arrest. I was in deep mental stress. I was being pressured to marry another person, violating my right of choice,” she said in the petition. Sudoroli managed to leave the house on October 13 and the couple went to Chennai's Periyar Thidal, where they had a Self-respect Marriage, a simple exchange of vows without rituals which is legal under the Hindu Marriage Act in Tamil Nadu. They also registered their marriage under the Tamil Nadu Registration of Marriage Act and duly obtained a certificate on October 18. The couple had been taking refuge in Pollachi. There they had the help of both Kowsalya and Sudha and several other activists. Due to Gurusamy’s work, they had come to his home in Chennai earlier this week, where he was arrested.

Guru was taken into custody last evening, November 26, by three plainclothes policemen, from his Perambur home, Sudha alleges. She also said that he was not taken to the Rajamangalam police station directly, but driven around the city in the police vehicle by the station inspector Kannan.

After the FIR was filed, Sudoroli submitted written statements and documents to the Coimbatore Superintendent of Police (SP), the Inspector of the Rajamangalam police station and the Pollachi magisterial court to show that she was an adult and was legally married. She further says in her petition that the couple had approached the Pollachi All Women’s Police Station (AWPS) asking for protection, fearing for their lives on October 20. Sudoroli also says in her letter to the Coimbatore SP, that her parents and Rajamangalam police arrived two days later at the Pollachi AWPS where her parents humiliated her using abusive language.

In Govindhan’s FIR, he claims that the couple made off with diamond jewellery worth more than Rs 11 lakh, 64 sovereigns (512 gm) of gold and 4 lakh in cash. Sudoroli, terming this a “false allegation” says in her petition that she had left with 10 sovereigns (80gms) of gold jewellery, which she submits she will return to her parents through the lawyer.

The weeks leading up to Gurusamy’s arrest were spent following up on paperwork, shunting between various police stations, hoping for relief, says Sudha. 

Pass the Bill against honour killing, urge activists

Thamizham Manavurimai Sangam, an organisation that helps inter-caste couples has been a pillar of support to Sudoroli and Gurusamy. Kowsalya, who is the vice president of the organisation, has a deeply personal reason for the work she does. The murder of her husband V Shankar, a Dalit, in broad daylight on March 13, 2016, by her own family from the Thevar caste cluster, shook Tamil Nadu. But Kowsalya, who was also attacked on that day and survived with injuries, points out that caste-killings and harassment of inter-caste couples will continue unabated, unless the Bill against honour killings is passed. The draft Bill was submitted by the Dalit Human Rights Defenders Network to Chief Minsiter MK Stalin earlier this year. The Bill, entitled ‘The Freedom of Marriage and Association and Prohibition of Crimes in the Name of Honour Act 2022’ seeks to proactively protect couples who may face threats based on grounds of religion, caste, class, gender and sexuality.

“If the Bill was enacted, when cops do something like this, we would have used that to fight for the couple,” says Kowsalya. According to her, if the Act was in place, the parents and even the police would have been liable in this case. “They wouldn’t have had this kind of impunity. Guru’s case is one among so many. It took about forty of us to fight for him and secure his release. Think about how many more cases like this happen in society. Will they all have activists to help them? But if this law existed, each of them would be able to use it to fight for themselves,” she says.

As Kowsalya points out, the Bill is not limited only to the extremity of ‘honour’ killings. It specifically provides an extensive set of examples, that can be ‘considered as criminal victimisation in the name of dishonour to a caste, religion or any social norm.’ It also takes into consideration, threats of physical harm, sexual violence, forced abortions, intimidation, causing psychological trauma through pressure to separate, seizing of important personal documents and items like laptops, phones etc.

Referring to her own horrific case, Kowsalya asks, “How many more Shankars and Kowsalyas need to happen? How many more Illavarasans and Divyas need to happen?” Illavarasan, was a Dalit youth murdered brutally in 2013 in Tamil Nadu’s Dharmapuri district for his marriage to Dhivya, from the Vanniyar caste (Most Backward Class), who are politically powerful in pockets of northern Tamil Nadu, including in Dharmapuri. 

“What if the case of Guru and Sudaroli had gone that way too? Or Guru ended up in jail. Sudaroli could have been abducted by relatives, because that is what usually happens in inter-caste marriages. Even the mental agony they experienced would have been covered by the law, if the Bill against honour killings was enacted,” says Kowsalya.

Sudoroli and Gurusamy’s lawyer, Sudha, echoes Kausalya's thoughts. “If the law had existed, it would have made all the difference. The Tamil Nadu government needs to pass the Bill, but laws alone aren’t enough. Too often, I have seen police conduct kangaroo courts, as they did in this case. I’ve seen it in domestic violence cases as well. There is a special Act to protect women against domestic violence, but still the cops trivialise the matter when wives complain at the police station and advise them to go back to an abusive home. In the case of the honour killing Bill, it must first be passed and second, the state government must set up an oversight committee, composed of people like Kausalya and Dhivya and other activists.” 

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