Tamil Nadu’s Dalit blind spot: A barbaric murder, a family’s search for truth and justice

It was widely reported that Gokulraj was 'decapitated', but that word masks the true barbarity of his death.
Tamil Nadu’s Dalit blind spot: A barbaric murder, a family’s search for truth and justice
Tamil Nadu’s Dalit blind spot: A barbaric murder, a family’s search for truth and justice
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This is the second part of a three-part series on stories of deaths of two Dalit youngsters from Tamil Nadu, and how the political establishment chose to look away. Read part one here.

Chitra cannot sleep at night. The unanswered questions and mystery over her son Gokulraj's brutal murder haunt her every day. "It's like I am going mad," she says, holding her head in desperation. Her older son, Kalaiselvan, gazes at her with a defeated look. “She even gets superstitious sometimes, like rolling the dice in front of god hoping some divine intervention would give her the answers,” he says, as she looks away in embarrassment. But the frustration increases with each passing day, and the answer to why her son was really murdered remains elusive.

"We refuse to believe it was for politics or publicity. It was a planned murder by Yuvaraj at the behest of someone politically influential, and that's why we don't know the truth," says Kalaiselvan, Gokulraj's elder brother.

Kalaiselvan, Gokulraj's brother

We are in the family's living room at Sastha Nagar in Omalur, 16 km from the town of Salem in west Tamil Nadu. There is no proper flooring in the 2-bedroom house on the first-floor, but they own the house and the one below, which has been rented out. Their son’s murderer is believed to be Yuvaraj, a known history-sheeter and Kongu Vellalar caste outfit leader in Namakkal, where Gokulraj went to college.

A parayar by birth, the ‘crime’ for which Gokulraj was murdered was that he was born a Dalit, and lived to defy the rules which society set for him. Gokulraj was a student entrepreneur. He started a small chit-fund scheme with his friend. He would take Rs. 100 a week from each willing person, and invest it in a good business, and would then pay back the amount with a bonus during Diwali. He was running a game centre too. Dinesh and Gokul, the business partners, bought old TV sets and PlayStations, and students thronged to play the games at their centre. Gokulraj dressed well, spoke to girls without fear or shyness and spoke English, for he had attended English medium schools throughout. 

Gokulraj was everything a parayar is not expected to be in Tamil Nadu. And for that, he paid with his life.

On June 23, 2015, Gokulraj was chatting with an upper caste female classmate at the Tiruchengode temple, when he was abducted, allegedly by members of the Dheeran Chinnamalai Peravai, a Kongu Vellalar caste outfit led by S Yuvaraj. According to the police, Yuvaraj then took Gokulraj to a secluded hill, forced him to make a video and write a ‘suicide note’, and strangled him to death with the help of his driver Arun. They then hacked his head off, and disposed the body by the railway tracks to make it look like a suicide. Yuvaraj then took off, but even as he was on the run, he reminded the world through WhatsApp messages of Gokulraj’s mortal sin — he dared to mingle with girls from the upper caste. (Read all about it here.)

Gokulraj’s family wants to try and forget the past, but they can't move on until they know what really happened. "They have not investigated Gokulraj's friend Karthik, and Swati, the girl who was with him when he was abducted. They know something which they don't want to reveal; the police is hiding something,” says Ganeshan, Chitra's father who lives with them now.

"If this was just due to caste pride and politics for Yuvaraj, why did they try and make it look like a suicide initially?" asks Kalaiselvan.

If the mystery is frustrating, the nature of his death is horrifying. It was widely reported that Gokulraj was 'decapitated', but that word masks the true barbarity of his death. "His face was hacked in two angles, and smashed from behind," says Kalaiselvan. "They hacked him once on the side, so his face was seen and one eye had popped out, and then his neck had been slashed and head removed." As he narrates this in anger, his mother breaks down and starts wailing, "What did my son do to deserve this?”

Gokulraj's mother Chitra

The family says they have had no help from anyone, barring relatives and a few Dalit political parties initially. "The police was acting against us, even the CB-CID is not investigating all sides," says Ganeshan.

Following the suicide of Rohith Vemula in Hyderabad, people from across the country — activists, politicians and journalists — assembled at the University to protest. "Rahul Gandhi has gone there twice, even fasted! But why is no one helping us? Aren’t we Indians?" asks Kalaiselvan, "Let alone national parties, even local parties did not help us.”

Ganeshan, Gokulraj's maternal grandfather

Nothing exposes the failure and hypocrisy of the Dravidian parties like Gokuraj's case. Following his murder, only some Dalit parties like VCK, BSP and Puthiya Tamizhagam, and smaller parties extended help. The left parties pitched in later, but even a condolence message has not been sent to them from the two Dravidian parties, says the family. Ironically, the DMK chief released an evocative press statement after Rohith's death, but no one from his party has helped Gokulraj's family.

"The Chief Minister Jayalalithaa releases statements for all kinds of small events, but nothing about this. Only after DSP Vishnupriya's death did she issue a statement, and even then she refused to ask for a CBI enquiry," says Kalaiselvan. DSP Vishnupriya, the investigating officer of the Gokulraj case, was found hanging from the ceiling fan at her official residence in Namakkal on September 18, 2015. She too was a Dalit, and her family has alleged foul play in her death. Both cases are being investigated by the CB-CID.

Read part three here.

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