The Dharmapuri police have booked six persons in connection with a brutal caste crime in Pennagaram taluk. The accused are all relatives of 22-year-old Priya*, a Vanniyar woman, who eloped with 24-year-old Vijay*, a man from the Navithar community, on July 21. A case was filed, close to a week after the attack, based on a complaint from Vijay's grandfather.
The couple, who had been in a relationship for eight years, went missing on June 21. Soon, there were rumours that the two of them had eloped. While both Navithar and Vanniyar are categorised as Most Backward Class (MBC) in Tamil Nadu, Navithar are more marginalised because their traditional caste occupation is cutting hair. Vanniyar are also numerically dominant in Dharmapuri.
Fearing violence, eight Navithar families, including Vijay's, left the district and moved to Karnataka for safety. However, Priya's family found them, brought them back to Thalapallam in Dharmapuri and assaulted eight members of Vijay's family. In addition to being beaten up on the night of July 24, they were tied to trees the next morning and assaulted in view of the entire village.
The local police took no action for six days as they claimed that there was no complaint from the victims. Dharmapuri SP P Rajan even branded the entire incident as 'fake news'. However, after the family filed a complaint in Karnataka, local police were forced to take cognisance of the matter.
Vijay's 60-year-old grandfather Kumar*, who had stayed back in Sekkarapeti, filed a complaint against the violence on July 30.
According to his complaint, of which TNM has a copy, Kumar was fast asleep on July 24 when trouble came knocking at the door.
"Bhaskar, Dharmalingam, Senthil, Kanagaraj and Arogyaraj from Thalapallam (village of accused men and women) came to my house and woke me up. When my wife and I asked what happened, Bhaskar abused me and asked where his relative (Priya) was. He accused us of hiding her. When I said I didn't know, Dharamalingam slapped my face. Senthil and Kanagaraj then hit my back and dragged me into a waiting car. When my wife asked them to leave me, they threatened to kill me if she tells the police. They took me to Raja's residence in Thalapallam," he states.
Once he arrived there, to his shock, he found seven more of his relatives, including Vijay's parents, being beaten up.
"Baskaran and Dharmalingam were holding my daughter's hair and beating her up. They didn't even take into account that she was a woman. They tore her blouse, humiliated her and kicked her in the stomach," he says in his complaint. Those who attempted to stop the attack were allegedly forced to face further violence.
The next day, the victims were taken by car to Hogenakkal and let go after multiple threats. While Kumar returned to Pennagram, the others left the state again.
"They said that if we don't return the girl in 10 days, they will kill all of us," says Kumar in his complaint.
Based on this complaint, the police have named Bhaskar, Dharmalingam, Senthil, Senthil's wife, Shanthi and Kanagaraj.
"They are all relatives of the woman who eloped. We have readied the FIR but investigations are still underway in the case. The named accused are relatives of Priya, There are other who are yet to be identified," says inspector Durairaj, who is handling the case. "Since a case has already been filed in the other state, we have separately taken the complaint of the grandfather who is still in Dharmapuri," he adds.
The accused who are allegedly absconding have been booked under sections - 149 (Every member of unlawful assembly guilty of offence committed in prosecution of common object), 294 (b) (sings, recites or utters any obscene song, ballad or words, in or near any public place), 342 ( Punishment for wrongful confinement), 323 ( Punishment for voluntarily causing hurt), 324 (voluntarily causing hurt by dangerous weapons or means), 354(B) (Assault or use of criminal force to woman with intent to disrobe), 506(II)(criminal intimidation) of the Indian Penal Code and under the Tamil Nadu Women Harassment Act.