Three missed calls on the landline.
That was Deivanai’s cue to get out of her house and meet her boyfriend, Vasanth, who would then take her to the nearest temple.
There, they decided to tie the knot, knowing full well that neither her family nor his would be thrilled. It wasn’t a guess - Deivanai’s parents had already found out about their relationship and were set against it because they belonged to different castes. Vasanth’s parents, too, had refused to support the couple because her family was poorer than theirs.
But while Deivanai and Vasanth were prepared to stand against them, they did not expect the death threats that followed.
The beginnings of the relationship
It all started in June 2008, when Devanai was doing her first year B.Com in Cauvery College in Tircuhi. Vasanth was working as a site supervisor for a construction company at the college, and the two of them soon became friends.
“We became friends, and on October 2, I proposed to her. She took five days to reply because they had a long holiday. But at last, she said yes,” Vasanth recounts.
Vasanth belongs to the Asari (goldsmith) caste, and Deivani to the Naidu caste - both are considered upper castes in Tamil Nadu.
Until 2010, their love story continued like any other; but one day, when Vasanth called Deivanai, her uncle picked up the phone.
“They came to know that we were in a relationship. They called me to their house and threatened me, and asked me to stay away from Deivanai,” says Vasanth.
The first signs of trouble
For the next six months, Vasanth and Deivanai couldn’t meet each other, as her family had decided to keep her under house arrest. She was finally let out of the house to write her exams, and the couple could finally meet again.
“We were sure that we needed to get married soon. I approached my father, but he refused to accept our relationship, because they were comparatively poorer than us. Her family had also started to look for a groom for her,” says Vasanth.
So they decided to elope.
Since Deivanai did not have a cell phone back then, and the only way to contact her was through the landline in her house, the couple decided on a simple way to rescue her: He would give three missed calls on the landline, which would be the cue for her to come out of the house. There, Vasanth would pick her up and take her to a temple.
They got married, but that was the easy part. As soon as Deivanai’s parents realised what had happened, they filed an abduction case against Vasanth.
The death threats
After Deivanai’s family filed a complaint at the Srirangam police station, the couple decided to surrender at the station and asked for police protection. While they were inside, there were 50 people from Deivanai’s family right outside the station, threatening to kill Vasanth the moment he stepped outside.
“The police told us that they can protect us as long as we were inside the police station, but outside, they said, they wouldn’t be able to help,” says Vasanth.
At this point, it was their lawyer who helped them. Advocate Muthukumar was with them in the police station, and immediately, he called every friend he could who lived nearby.
“They (Deivanai’s family) had around 50 people with them, and we had about 60 people, so we were able to safely get out of that area,” says Vasanth.
Life after the wedding
But while the immediate threat was tackled, that didn’t change the fact that the family still hated Vasanth. For years after, Deivanai’s relatives continued to abuse Vasanth if they saw him anywhere, and multiple times, they threatened to kill him.
It was also not easy to start a new life. Both Vasanth and Deivanai were unemployed, and it was difficult to make ends meet.
“First, I started a business but it failed,” Vasanth says. Which just became another reason for Deivanai’s family to ask their daughter to leave him and come back home.
“They often called her, asked her what was happening, and kept telling her to come back home. They told her it was better to stay with them than to suffer with him. Every day, she used to cry because,” Vasanth says.
Even his father keeps asking him to leave Deivanai and come back home, says Vasanth, but he always has the same reply: A stern ‘No’.
But now, they both are employed and living happily. Vasanth is now working with Advocate Muthukumar as his personal secretary, and Deivanai is working as a warden at a women’s hostel.
For the couple, the threats and the problems they faced are in the past.
“All that matters is that you get to marry the one you love,” says Vasanth.