The mother of the man who eloped with a Vanniyar woman is in hospital with serious injuries, after she and 7 others from the family were stripped and assaulted.

Young love and the bloodlust of caste Why 8 families have fled Tamil NaduMegha Kaveri
news Caste Monday, July 29, 2019 - 19:09

Around half a dozen people are huddled around Rani*, who lies unconscious in a hospital bed in Bengaluru. She has not spoken a single word since Thursday, when she was admitted to the hospital with head and body injuries. “She hasn’t even lifted her head,” says Selvi, Rani’s mother, “There are serious injuries on her head, abdomen and thighs.” Rani, her husband Kalidas, and six others from their family were stripped and tortured by a group of men in Dharmapuri last week for over eight hours. The reason: Rani and Kalidas’s son is believed to have eloped with a woman from their village, and the woman’s family is furious because the couple is inter-caste.

Twenty-four-year-old Vijay* and 22-year-old Priya* have been in a relationship for eight years, and went missing on the same day, June 21, from Pikkampatti village in Pennagaram Taluk, Dharmapuri. Soon, there were rumours that the two of them had eloped – Vijay and his family belong to the Navithar caste, and Priya and her family to the Vanniyar caste. While both Navithar and Vanniyar are categorised as Most Backward Class (MBC) in Tamil Nadu, Navithar are more marginalised because their traditional caste occupation is cutting hair. Vanniyar are also numerically dominant in Dharmapuri.

Hours after news spread that the couple had eloped, eight Navithar families in the village including Vijay’s parents Rani and Kalidas packed up their lives and moved to other cities to hide, fearing for their lives. “We were just eight Navithar families living in that area,” Kalidas says, “Vanniyars are numerically dominant there. So, we knew that all of them will side with the woman’s family and might blame us, or even attack us for her disappearance.”

But despite moving to Bengaluru overnight to avoid violence, Rani, Kalidas and six others from their family were trapped, allegedly by a group of Vanniyar men, and taken back to their village in Dharmapuri to be tortured.

The pretense of dialogue

Vijay’s family spent 35 days in Bengaluru, wondering about their son’s whereabouts. “We have spent about Rs 1.5 lakh looking for him since we came here,” Kalidas says, “We still have no information about him.” Kalidas adds that his son’s mobile phone has been switched off since June 21.

On the evening on July 24, a car pulled up to the house where Kalidas and Rani have been staying. Priya’s relatives from Dharmapuri had arrived, and claimed they wanted to invite Kalidas and Rani to talk to their family and sort things out. “They said they wanted the children to be happy, and we trusted them,” he says.

Meanwhile another car from Dharmapuri picked up Vijay’s aunts and uncles from another part of Bengaluru. “We shouldn’t have trusted them,” says Nagarani, Vijay’s aunt in hindsight, who was one of those who was picked up by Priya’s family. Kalidas, Rani, Nagarani, Haridas, Sarasu, Manjunathan and Krishnamoorthy were taken in two cars by Priya’s family.

The car in which Kalidas and Rani were there, took a small detour to Rani’s parents’ home. “They knocked on our doors loudly and when I opened the door, a group of 2-3 men barged in and caught me by my hair. They abused me verbally and hit my husband in front of my eyes. As my husband tried to resist the blows, they hit him harder and dragged him away amidst my shrieks,” Selvi recounts. Her husband Raja was added to the group being taken to Dharmapuri.

Hours of horror

The group reached Priya’s family home in Thalappalam around 1 am on Thursday. “They started beating us with coconut barks and water pipes,” says Sarasu, Vijay’s aunt, “They stripped the women off our sarees, and the men were completely stripped. They continued beating us. They poured water on all our faces and thrashed us mercilessly.”

Priya’s family continued their attack on Vijay’s family for eight hours non-stop. “They were asking us where our son was. How would we know? We are also looking for him,” Kalidas says. 

By the time the sun rose, the news of the torture spread and people started to trickle in to witness the horror – around 50 of them. “They were taking videos of us getting abused. But not a single man raised his voice in our support,” a furious Kalidas says. The brutal attack left everybody in a bad physical state, with Rani suffering the worst. She has internal injuries in her head and abdomen with blood clots scattered all over her body.

When a few elders from the village came to check on Rani in hospital in Bengaluru, Kalidas sent them away. “Nobody had the courage or the basic humanity to intervene at that point when we needed them the most, who needs them now?” he asks.

Threat to keep silent

“They dropped us back in Hosur on Thursday, made us hop onto a bus to Bengaluru and followed our bus for a kilometre or so to ensure we don’t get down and go back to Dharmapuri and file a police complaint,” Nagarani recollects. She also adds that they were threatened to not approach the police anywhere to file a complaint against their abductors.

The family reached Bengaluru and visited a private clinic to treat their injuries and did not breathe a word about the abuse to anyone else. However, as Rani's condition became critical, the family admitted her to a private hospital in the city, and consequently, filed a complaint with the Bengaluru police.

An FIR has been registered by the Bengaluru police under IPC sections 354(B) (Assault or use of criminal force to woman with intent to disrobe), 506 (Criminal intimidation), 149 (unlawful assembly), 504 (Intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace), 341 (Punishment for wrongful restraint), 323 (Punishment for voluntarily causing hurt), and 324 (Voluntarily causing hurt by dangerous weapons or means).

Police apathy or nexus?

However, the Tamil Nadu police are continuing to downplay the incident. Dharmapuri SP, P Rajan, had told TNM on Sunday that the entire incident was ‘fake news’. On Friday, he claimed it was ‘not a big issue.’

"An inspector is currently in Bengaluru. They say they have been brought here and assaulted but nobody is giving a complaint. We are planning to file an FIR suo motu tomorrow. It is true that they were assaulted but they have not been stripped. Claims that they were brought here (Dharmapuri), tied up and forced to leave the village are lies. It is not a big issue," Rajan tells TNM.

When informed that Vijay's mother is severely injured, the district police chief says, "Nobody is critical. We know the reality. Why aren't they giving a complaint?”

"When we ask the people here they say nothing happened. They are both from MBC community," he adds. 

*Names changed to protect identity

(With inputs from Priyanka Thirumurthy)

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