Dalit girl alleges assault by DMK MLA’s family in Chennai

Anu* was employed as a domestic worker by Pallavaram DMK MLA I Karunanithi’s son Anto and daughter-in-law Merlina when she was 17 years old. On January 16, she was admitted to the hospital with multiple injuries.
Representative picture of a young girl
Representative picture of a young girl
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An 18-year-old Dalit girl employed by the son and daughter-in-law of Pallavaram DMK MLA I Karunanithi in Chennai was admitted to the Ulundurpet Government Hospital in Kallakurichi district on January 16 with severe injuries. The girl, Anu (name changed), was found to have cigarette burns, injuries, and contusions on her face and body, and has alleged that the MLA’s son and daughter-in-law assaulted her.

The girl was able to receive medical attention only after she was dropped at her mother’s place in Ulundurpet for the Pongal festival and her mother noticed her injuries. Police at the jurisdictional Neelankarai Assistant Commissioner's office said that they were yet to receive a complaint from the girl and had merely received information from the Ulundurpet police.

Speaking to TNM, Anu alleged that she was beaten brutally by Merlina, who is married to Karunanithi’s son Anto, at their residence in Thiruvanmiyur, Chennai. Anu started to work at Anto’s residence as a domestic worker eight months ago after she completed her Class 12 exams. She belongs to the Paraiyar community, which is categorised as Scheduled Caste in Tamil Nadu. Anto and his family members belong to the Udayar community, which is categorised as Backward Class in the state.

Anu’s mother is a domestic worker at a residence in Chennai’s Kolapakkam. Due to financial constraints, she allowed Anu to work in Anto’s residence. The mother was promised that the couple would let Anu pursue higher education in April 2023. However, Anu told TNM that in the last eight months, Merlina beat her, burnt her skin with cigarettes, and cut her hair short. Merlina also threatened Anu not to reveal the abuse to anyone.

Whenever Anu’s mother contacted Merlina, she was told that they were in Bengaluru. But Anu’s mother urged them to let her daughter visit home during Pongal. According to Anu, Merlina dropped her off at her residence after warning her with dire consequences if she ever divulged the physical abuse she went through.

“Even before Pongal, they coerced me into signing a paper saying that I owed them Rs 2 lakh that ‘was paid’ for my education and that I would continue to work there for the next three years,” Anu added.

The accident register at the Ulundurpet Government Hospital also recorded that Anu was assaulted using a ladle, stick, and hair straightener. According to her statement to the hospital authorities, she was also kicked at her place of employment. During the medical examination, she was found to have abrasions above the eyes, on the forehead and chin, and burn injuries on both forearms.

The hospital management alerted the police as she had multiple injuries and contusions on her body. The Ulundurpet police further informed the Thiruvanmiyur Police Station as the series of incidents took place in Chennai.

Talking to TNM, a police source from the Neelankarai Assistant Commissioner’s office said they received an intimation from the Ulundurpet police and were yet to receive a complaint from the girl. “Once the complaint reaches us, we will investigate further,” they said.

“They took my phone away, so I could not communicate with my mother. They forced me to sign a bond paper in the presence of my mother to work here for six months in May 2023. At that time, Merlina handed over my phone to my mom.”

Anu, who secured 433 marks in her Class 12 exams, wanted to study medicine. She took up a job as she wanted to save money for NEET coaching.

“I told them I was here to earn money for my studies and they said they would support me financially. In August 2023, Merlina accompanied me to the school while I was getting my Transfer Certificate. After a few days, she told me that she had enrolled me in an institute where I could get an online education and she also told me that she had paid Rs 2 lakh for the course,” she said.

However, Anu never attended any classes online. She requested Merlina several times to be allowed to return home.

Anu also said that Merlina had kept her Class 10 and 12 mark sheets along with the school transfer certificate. According to her, she was not paid for her work. As per the agreement between them, she was supposed to receive Rs 16,000 per month, but she was paid only Rs 5,000.

MLA I Karunanithi denied the allegations and called them false and motivated. Talking to TNM, he said that he was not aware of what happened in his son’s residence, but that his family members did not treat their employees this way. “There could be a personal motive behind this complaint. We treated her like one of our family members and supported her aspirations to study, even celebrated her 18th birthday. These are false allegations,” he said.

Kathir, founder of the non-profit Evidence, said that what happened to the girl was pathetic. “The police are aware of our complaint and have spoken to her. They should immediately file an FIR against the MLA’s son and daughter-in-law.” A fact-finding team from Evidence had met the girl and taken her statement.

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