Dressed in black and sporting a bob, Kausalya takes anxious steps towards the cameras flashing outside her house. “I will talk after the full verdict is out,” she repeats to the questions thrown at her. Back inside, Kausalya watches herself on TV saying what she has just said outside. Her tension is palpable.
It has been close to 21 months since her husband Sankar was hacked to death right in front of her. The couple were married for eight months and were living at Komaralingam in Tamil Nadu’s Tirupur district when tragedy struck. In an event that forever changed her life, Kausalya has emerged stronger, becoming the face that demands justice for honour killings and caste-based violence.
Sankar, a Dalit, was hacked to death in March 2016 for marrying Kausalya from the socially-dominant Thevar community. The CCTV footage of the murder that occurred at Udumalaipettai in broad daylight, sent shivers down everyone’s spine in the state. For Kausalya, the story had just begun.
Directed by Sadhana Subramaniam, India’s Forbidden Love: An Honour Killing On Trial is a documentary shot for Al Jazeera's Witness, a documentary series channel.
In December 2017, a series of events lead to an important verdict that rattled the bowels of deep-rooted casteism in Tamil Nadu.
The 25-minute documentary comes close to offering a panoramic view on caste and caste-based violence in Tamil Nadu that casts long and dark shadows on almost every aspect of life - beginning from school admissions to death certificates.
The documentary closely follows Kausalya’s journey leading up to the court’s verdict.
While a visibly perturbed Kausalya anticipates justice, the betrayal felt by Kausalya’s estranged family offers a unique perspective into the deeply-ingrained idea of caste in the state. “I told them to stop her education when she got to tenth grade. That’s enough in our caste. She lost her reasoning when she went to college,” says her grandmother with conviction while her brother adds, “She has been brought up without the awareness of caste.”
For a society entrenched in patriarchal and caste hegemonic ideas, the idea of honour killing is non-existent. “Even though she was a girl her parents still sent her to study engineering. But she’s immature and seeking revenge for her strict upbringing by accusing them of this murder.” This was AP Jayachandran, senior defence counsel’s concluding argument in the court.
The Tirupur District Sessions Court, presided by Judge Alamelu Natarajan, sentenced six men including Kausalya’s father, Chinnasamy to death, while acquitting three including her mother Annalakshmi.
With this verdict, Kausalya’s anxiousness is replaced by disappointment and anger. “If those three walk free, there’s no point in me being alive. They came a week before the incident and threatened us right here. What more can I say?” she asks.
Acquitted from the case Kausalya’s mother says, “Why is the girl like this? Can one person really abolish caste? It’s been around for generations, what can one person do? It can’t be changed. Rather than trying to change it, she should change herself.” And this is the kind of conviction with which people have strictly adhered to caste in the state.
Honour killings are not unprecedented in Tamil Nadu. In stark contrast to the Shankar-Kausalya case is the Illavarasan-Divya case. In July 2013, the mysterious death of Illavarasan, a Dalit, who married Divya from the Vanniyar caste resulted in severe caste tensions in the Dharmapuri district of Tamil Nadu. However, this did not lead to justice.
Illavarasan’s death was closed as a case of suicide by the investigating officials. However, several suspected foul play in Illavarasan’s death, whose body was found near the tracks. This case created a divide in the previously coexisting Dalit and Vanniyar villages of the district and also served as pedestal for the PMK to win a parliamentary seat in the Vanniyar-dominated Dharmapuri constituency.
The state now grapples with caste prejudices that dictates its politics. In its current form, caste-based politics has vilified inter-caste marriages, calling it love-jihad, and are basking in the rift that these clashes have caused to secure their vote banks.
For Kausalya, who now lives under police protection, the battle is far from over. “A prisoner spends the day feeling positive but at night they are locked up alone. That’s how I feel every night,” she says in the video.
Reacting to the verdict, Kausalya told the media later in the day, "Justice for Sankar is not just this verdict. There will be justice only when there's a separate law against honour crimes."
“In the end, we both closed our eyes together. I woke up. He never did. Real justice for Sankar is to fight against caste system, to lead a life without compromise, and with a freedom that knows no bounds,” said Kausalya.
Watch the video here: