Everybody loves a good motive: Casteism, misogyny pervades discourse on Swathi's murder

Swathi’s murder is now food for thought at dinner tables, meant to stoke fears around inter-caste relationships.
Everybody loves a good motive: Casteism, misogyny pervades discourse on Swathi's murder
Everybody loves a good motive: Casteism, misogyny pervades discourse on Swathi's murder

In the days following the brutal murder of Chennai techie Swathi, several disturbing reactions emerged, including a copious amount of character assassination.

One of the first reactions came from YGee Mahendra’s speculative and defamatory update on Facebook based on obviously false rumours on WhatsApp. YGee was called out for his communal and casteist message, yet he defended his position by simply stating he was just passing on what he had read elsewhere.

“She called me thevangu, so I killed her.” – This is another unconfirmed quote from Ramkumar that has been circulating across social media. Thevanga, in Tamil, is an insulting reference to the slender loris with its big, protruding eyes. While some sections of social media users are using it to make a point about misogyny, others are using it to justify his actions. 

 A fake selfie of the two has also been circulating, a not-so-subtle insinuation following the picture. How could he have killed her if he was so close to her? Why did she allow him to get so close to him? Was he her boyfriend? Was she his girlfriend? None of these questions justify murder, and a woman certainly has the agency to choose her partner. Her partner however, cannot take away her right to live. 

There have also been the whispers in Chennai’s households and lanes –  of old maamas and maamis giving their sons and daughters medieval advice and asking them to stay away from people of another caste, class or community. Swathi’s murder is now food for thought at dinner tables, meant to stoke fears around inter-caste relationships.   

What is apparent from all this speculation is the need to find another motive besides the obsession that led Ramkumar to stalk her.  What’s also clear is how Swathi’s murder has held a mirror to the deeply internalized casteism and misogyny in our society, with words of unsolicited advice being flung around from one family to another. 

What can we do? Why can't we turn the toxic discourse on its head and talk about consent, about healthy relationships, and about what we teach both our sons and daughters about the two? It takes two minutes to turn on the television on a Sunday afternoon to watch a chock full of misogynist and classist Tamil cinema playing. Why can't we re-evaluate and question these portrayals as families and friends? 
Because we all love a good motive. A good motive that is removed from the reality of discourse in our own homes.


And amidst all this, comes a ‘message’ from a founder of a much sought after matrimonial site. Here are some excerpts from it.

Some ‘questions’ raised by the writer (N. Panchapakesan, Founder, Chennai Sai Sankara Matrimonials)

“Is it the changes in our Culture?

Is it the Negative impact of Modern Technologies of Cell Phone, Internet, Facebook etc.?

Is it the “Don’t care” and “So What?” attitude by the youngsters based on Too much of Freedom?

Is it the Diminishing value system for Morality, Conscience?”

And here is some of the casteist stuff (emphasis is the writer’s)

"Whatever be the reasons, one Thing is clear. Boys from other caste are keen to bracket Girls of Higher Genetics, somehow or other, either for Love or Marriage and our Girls Too fall a victim easily based on Temptations!

No doubt, values for Chastity, Character must be adhered to by both Boys & Girls as well. But, of late I find Girls are getting spoiled more than the Boys.

To be born as a Human being is a rarity ! To take a Birth as Brahmin is still more a rarity ! Once getting into inter-caste Marriages, Brahmin Brides lose the Privilege & glory once for all ! No point in regretting later, after committing the Himalayan Blunder! 

The very purpose of running our Marriage Bureau exclusively for Brahmins is to ensure against such inter-caste Marriages ! I feel it is high time for our Brahmin Brides to resolve to marry Brahmin Grooms only and not to give any scope for any Temptation to anyone else in the process!"


To say this is the belief of a fringe group amongst the Tamil Brahmins or many other upper castes is bluntly wrong. This is exactly what many among them, and not just the older generation, staunchly believe.

Many also believe they are ‘genetically’ better and that the women are their property, to be protected from men of other lower castes.

They believe in their endogamy as the only way to remain casteist.

And after all this, there is still the self-vicitimising tone of the community over lost political power and social privilege.

Swathi’s murder has whipped up dormant passions within the Tamil Brahmin community, which has conditioned itself to live with insecurity. Their fears are not entirely unfounded, and with political power, and to some extent bureaucratic power, tipped in favour of the intermediate castes, poor Brahmins do find it difficult to get justice in their favour. But OBC power structures trample Dalits more. This too is a product of the same casteism that the Brahmins themselves continue to stand by and profess.

To then claim, using deeply offensive casteist statements, that they have been victimised speaks of the hypocrisy of the Brahmin elite.

Ramkumar is a Dalit. He is an alleged murderer who will face punishment when the court finds him guilty. But he is also a product of the same society which the Brahmins continue to keep regressive.

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