news Saturday, July 04, 2015 - 05:30
  All it took was a debatable “slap” by DMK treasurer MK Stalin on the Chennai Metro to evoke a sharp reaction from AIADMK chief and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa. The reaction from the CM – she said Stalin’s behaviour was “unbecoming of an MLA” – came soon after the video showing Stalin tapping a fellow commuter became the talk of the town. And so it began. Within hours, the leaders of long-time enemies, the DMK and AIADMK, lost no time in descending into a tug-of-war over who could claim more credit for the newest jewel in Tamil Nadu’s crown – the swanky Chennai Metro – for which official work began nine years ago. The two sides exchanged barbs with Jayalalithaa blaming Karunanidhi for signing pricy MoUs. In sharp comparison, it has been over a week since the beheaded body of 21 year-old Dalit engineer, Gokulraj was found on the railway tracks at Thottipalayam in Namakkal district. Read: Dalit man's limb allegedly chopped off over love-affair with caste-Hindu girl The death was initially passed off as a suicide because of a note found in his pocket. But further investigation revealed that he was murdered after being found talking to a female friend belonging to an upper caste community. They were found chatting at the Sri Arthanareeshwarar Temple in Tiruchengode on Tuesday morning. Video footage shows the gang taking the Dalit youth away from the temple after he spoke to the girl. Initially registered as suspicious death, the police registered a murder case only after the autopsy was conducted. Six people have been arrested, with a look-out for the main suspect in the murder. But this appears to be part of a pattern. The death of Gokulraj is but one incident in a string of caste-related murders. Exactly two years ago on July 4 , a Dalit youth Ilavarasan's body was found . Though officially reported as a case of suicide, his death came after continued caste violence. After he eloped and married Divya, a girl of the Vanniyar caste, riots ensued against the Dalit community in which over 260 homes were burnt or damaged.  According to Evidence, a Madurai-based human rights organisation, there have been 60 instances of honour killings in the last three years.    In December last year, the headless torso of Palaniappan, a 32 year-old Vanniyar man was found in Keelamaruthu village in the Thiruvarur district. Also found were the bodies of his wife, Amirthavalli, a Dalit woman and their child, a 38 day-old infant.  It was alleged that the couple who had moved away to Madurai after their marriage had been attacked by Palaniappan’s family and then killed.  “Major political parties are fighting over who laid the foundation to Chennai’s Metro. But not a single party has reacted to this brutal murder,” says Ravikumar of the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK), adding that the DMK, AIADMK, DMDK, and the BJP have remained silent. They appear to be occupied elsewhere. From photo-op moments on the Metro (some of which went horribly wrong ) to statements on the recent RK Nagar by-elections which made Jayalalithaa the chief minister again, political parties have been active like never before. “They are talking about the non-issues and leave out the main issues,” says Ravikumar adding that the custom was only getting more severe over the years. He said that earlier couples who were in an inter-caste marriage or a relationship used to be attacked. But as in the murder of Gokulraj, it appears that these attackers were getting emboldened, as the girl had said clearly that she was not in a relationship with Gokulraj, Ravikumar said. This is how honour killings have progressed and evolved, he said talking about the steadily increasing intolerance. Following Gokulraj’s murder, the Left parties and caste-based parties including the VCK have pushed for a credible state legislation to penalize honour killings in the state. “No political party is bold enough to declare and condemn these acts. They don’t come out openly and discuss these issues because they fear the vote-bank,” said Marx, an activist based in Chennai. Along with legal redress, he said that social intervention too was necessary to effect some kind of change in the situation. It was necessary to have a dialogue on caste within the state. Bickering over the Metro has continued. Jayalalithaa has blamed DMK leader Karunanidhi for signing MoUs detrimental to the people. But the long-standing practice of caste atrocities and murders such as Gokulraj’s have been treated with deafening silence, when they need intervention right from school, Rivkumar says. For instance, he says that tackling caste in institutions such as schools would go a long way in preventing incidents such as the one in Villupuram. The New Indian Express reported that school authorities allegedly forced two Dalit students to clean the school toilets. CM Jayalalithaa has been petitioned to take action against the school authorities. We may debate endlessly over whether Stalin really did slap a man on the Chennai Metro. And before that, about Kirin Rijiju delaying a flight because he was late. They are important issues, given that they discuss the question of some people being abusing their privileges. Political parties are falling all over themselves and losing no time in expressing their profound feelings about their efforts into getting the Chennai Metro started. But when a young Dalit man has been killed because of his caste, where are the priorities of our politician leaders?