‘My father-in-law is being influenced by people who look at me as a lower caste. But we can’t bow down to these pressures,’ MLA Prabhu says.

AIADMK MLA Prabhu in a white shirt with his wife Soundharya who is wearing a green salwar with a black dupatta
news Caste Tuesday, October 06, 2020 - 14:20

Close to two weeks ago, AIADMK Member of Legislative assembly (MLA) A Prabhu went to the residence of temple priest and party member S Swaminathan with his parents, in Kallakurichi district. In their friendship of 10 years Prabhu had always been welcomed by the priest with warm words and hospitality. But on that day, the Brahmin priest flew into a fit of rage and made it clear that he was not welcome, recalls the legislator.

35-year old Prabhu who belongs to a Scheduled Community had gone with his family to ask for the hand of the priest's daughter Soundarya (19), in marriage.

"He said we shouldn't enter the house and that there was no question of us getting married," Prabhu tells TNM in an interview. "First they said that I was like a son to them and when we insisted they began insulting us and told us to leave. They said their community will not accept such an alliance and neither will their family. We quietly left because we did not want to create a scene. My parents were humiliated but remained silent," he adds.

But Prabhu was not deterred by this. He says he and Soundharya had been friends but fell in love after the lockdown started in March.

"We always had a good relationship but it was when we could not see each other following the lockdown that we realised this was more than just friendship. We have been in love for close to five months now," says Prabhu. "When her father objected we decided we had no choice but for her to leave the house and come without their approval," he adds.

On Monday, the couple got married with the blessings of Prabhu's family but there has been no time to celebrate. Swaminathan has filed a habeas corpus petition in the Madras High Court alleging that the MLA abducted his daughter and that he has had an illegal relationship with her for three years, from before she became an adult. Though Swaminathan in a few interviews had said that he was opposed to the age difference, he does not mention this in the petition and only alleges that his daughter was kidnapped.

It is Soundharya who clears the air regarding this. Speaking to TNM, the newly-wed says, "Nobody abducted me. We were in love and I left the house because my parents would not agree to the marriage. We are happy now because I followed my heart and sought my own future. I feel awful about my father's distress but hope to convince my parents about this."

In his writ petition the priest however questions the MLA's character and alleges that Prabhu "had many illegal affairs with many women. Since he has bad habits he came to me for his remedies through poojas, as per his request I had helped him through poojas."

He further claims that he was threatened by the MLA's father when asked about the whereabouts of his daughter and offered Rs.1 crore for his silence.

"None of this is true," says Prabhu. "We have done nothing to deserve this kind of character assassination. I love his daughter and I will take good care of her. We both didn't think of community, caste or age when we fell in love. She knew I was 15 years older but that didn't affect her decision," he explains.

While Prabhu is ready to fight out the matter in court, he regrets the direction in which the controversy was heading.

"I married Soundharya to take good care of her, for a bright future and to live a happy life. But I feel helpless now because she is forced to face stinging questions and pushback from her own family," he says.

The MLA further acknowledges that even his political positioning was not enough to escape the rigidity of the caste system.

"At the end of the day, we are human beings caught in this society's vigours. People talk about caste and their own communities. But tomorrow when you are struggling, nobody from this so-called community comes to help you. They only interfere when they want to stir controversy," says Prabhu. "My father-in-law is being influenced by the people around him who look at me as a lower caste and themselves as upper caste. But we can't bow down to these pressures. We have to do what is right for us."

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