Dalit boy’s alleged murder brings focus back to the rising caste polarization in western Tamil Nadu

Dalit boy’s alleged murder brings focus back to the rising caste polarization in western Tamil Nadu
Dalit boy’s alleged murder brings focus back to the rising caste polarization in western Tamil Nadu
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The ugly caste-divisions of Tamil society came to fore yet again with a Dalit boy being allegedly murdered by men belonging to an OBC community group after they spotted him with a caste-Hindu girl at a temple. Protests have broken out in the districts of Namakkal, Salem and Erode following the incident. Twenty one-year old Gokulraj’s headless torso was found in Nakammal district by the railway tracks. The body is being kept at the Salem government hospital. A four-minute conversation between the girl and Gokulraj’s brother, a recording of which is available with The News Minute, has given crucial clues to the police.

Following a writ petition filed at the Madras High Court by the family, the court has appointed a doctor’s panel to conduct the post-mortem and ordered that the whole procedure be videotaped, and handed over to the police in a sealed cover. The doctors’ panel will be headed by the Dean of the Salem government hospital and include two doctors from the hospital and one appointed by the family. “The police are supporting the OBC community. They are trying to make this look like a suicide. This was a murder,” says Parthiban, the lawyer representing Gokulraj's family.

The News Minute has accessed an audio conversation recorded by the brother of the victim and the girl with who Gokulraj was present before the alleged incident. TNM is unable to verify the authenticity of the audio recording. This is a conversation which reportedly took place after Gokulraj’s family came to know of his death and spoke to the girl to find out what had happened.

The phone call which says it all

In the four and a half minute audio conversation, the girl is heard narrating the events leading to Gokulraj's death.  According to the girl, the duo had visited Sri Arthanareeshwarar Temple in Tiruchengode on Tuesday morning to seek blessings. They decided to sit and relax outside the temple for 5 minutes before leaving. They were just about to leave when a middle-aged man called out to Gokul. The man, she says, told Gokul that one Yuvaraj wants to meet him. Gokul agreed and went to meet them. “I don’t know what happened to him, but sometime later the other man came back and asked me which place I belong to and took details from me,” she says.

Ardhanareeshwarar Temple in Tiruchengode, Tamil Nadu

She then says that men took her phone and sent her outside the temple, with the other men escorting her. When she asked them for her phone, they assured her that they will return it to her at her house in the evening. Importantly, the girl says that the men were from the police, but also refers to the name Yuvaraj, although she does not know who Yuvaraj is. It is however now believed that the men pretended to be policemen to reassure the girl.

“I told them that we were not lovers, we just came to visit the temple to seek blessings. I told them that I would not hide if I was in love with him, but they told me that Gokul had told them that both of us were lovers,” she says, seeming to be at the verge of breaking down. When she started quarrelling with them, they threatened to hit her and asked her to leave, she says.

There is a clinching piece of evidence which she offers. She says that their car, white coloured and possibly an SUV, had “Dheeran Chinnamalai” written behind it and had a “green and red” flag.

When Gokul's brother asks why she did not alert anyone after the incident, she says in exasperation that her phone was snatched away and she did not have anybody’s number.

On Wednesday Gokulraj’s body, with his head severed, was found by the railway tracks at Pallipalayam in Namakkal district. He had graduated from the KSR College of Engineering in Tiruchengode last year. The girl is reportedly studying in the same college now.

The police, on the basis of the audio conversation, are on the lookout for Yuvaraj, who locals say is associated with the “Dheeran Chinnamalai Peravai”. The police say that he is absconding. No arrests have been made so far. Speaking to The News Minute, the Superintendent of Police in Namakkal Senthil Kumar says, “The investigation is going on. We have found a letter in the body which looks like a suicide note.”

An old poster with Yuvaraj's image in Nakammal.

So far, only a case of kidnapping has been filed by the police, but the family demands that a murder case be filed. Dalit groups and political parties are also backing the family. “Our leader Thol Thirumavalavan has spoken to the SP of Namakkal and he has assured that following the police mortem the right cases will be filed. We have complete belief in the police and we hope they will take the right action,” says Ravikumar of the VCK.

Dheeran Chinnamalai and the madness of caste

The “Dheeran Chinnamalai Peravai” is a caste-outfit associated with the Kongu Vellalar community, the same community which attacked Tamil writer Perumal Murugan over his book ‘One Part Woman’. In fact, the Ardhanareeshwarar temple where the duo met was at the centre of the controversy over Murugan’s book.

Dheeran Chinnamalai, born Chinnamalai Theerthagiri Gounder, was a Kongu ruler who is known to have fought against the British Raj. He is said to have helped Tipu Sultan in the war against the East India Company and later captured, and hanged to death.

For those from Gounder caste, he is an icon of valour and caste-pride. There have been several attempts by groups like the Kongu Nadu Munnetra Peravai to blow up his image. It is in the name of Dheeran Chinnamalai that caste divisions are being kept alive, and often atrocities being committed.

Here is a video of various groups celebrating Dheeran Chinnamalai, vowing to fight for justice in his name. As you can see, their flags are indeed in green and red.

Kongu group celebrating Dheeran Chinnamalai

This is not the first time such an incident has happened in Tamil Nadu.  In 2013, a Dailt youngster Ilavarasan was found dead on railway tracks in Dharmapuri district. He had eloped with a girl from the Vanniyar caste earlier and married her. Following a promise of a proper marriage ceremony, his wife was taken away by the family to her home. A day before his death, his wife refused to return to him stating continuing clashes between both communities and memories of her father, who had committed suicide due to their marriage. This had triggered riots against Dalits in Dharmapuri in which around 250 Dalit homes were set on fire.

Ravikumar however says that both communities should wait for all facts to emerge before jumping to conclusions. It is certain now that the duo were not lovers, and while he accepts that the said caste groups could have had a role in what happened, there might be other facts which have not fully emerged. “Since the Perumal Murugan affair, there has been considerably less caste-based friction in the region. We should not speculate at this stage and create a vitiating atmosphere. We are willing to wait for the investigation to be completed,” says Ravikumar.


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