A tale of two caste killings: Gowsalya Shankar speaks out on Amrutha Pranay

An inter-caste couple, Gowsalya and Shankar met an eerily familiar fate in 2016 when Shankar was murdered by henchmen sent by Gowsalya’s father.
A tale of two caste killings: Gowsalya Shankar speaks out on Amrutha Pranay
A tale of two caste killings: Gowsalya Shankar speaks out on Amrutha Pranay
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Soon after news broke of the horrific killing of Pranay Perumalla Kumar, a 24-year-old Dalit man from Telangana’s Nalgonda district, the incident brought back frightening echoes from an eerily similar incident in Tirupur district, Tamil Nadu in March 2016. Shankar, a 22-year-old Dalit man from Udumalaipettai, was hacked to death in broad daylight by henchmen sent by his wife Gowsalya's father.

Amrutha and Gowsalya are both caste Hindus whose families had objected to their marriage to their Dalit partners. While Gowsalya’s father was found guilty of masterminding the killing of Shankar, Amrutha’s father has been booked for Pranay’s murder.

CCTV visuals from both incidents – a young couple walking together when the man is attacked from behind – were eerily similar, and a stark reminder of the real and present danger that inter-caste couples in the country face.

Speaking to TNM, Gowsalya says that the only solution to stopping these horrific crimes against inter-caste couples is the total annihilation of caste.

She says, “When a woman marries a man of another caste, her family believes their caste will not reach the next generation. So it is likely that this caste will get destroyed. Especially when the man is from an oppressed caste, they ask how can a baby of another caste be in the womb of my daughter? They see it as a loss of prestige for their caste.”

She adds that this is the reason why women are venerated. “Women are seen as baby-making machines. The next generation is possible only if the woman gives birth. Women are seen as goddesses to protect casteism,” she says.

Over the last two-and-a-half-years, 21-year-old Gowsalya has become an anti-caste activist, advocating for the protection of inter-caste couples.

She says that the road to a casteless society is long and arduous. “Indian society is a casteist society. These horrific caste crimes will continue as long as there is casteism. Unless the government voluntarily comes forward and finds a way to abolish casteism, it will not happen,” she says.

Over the years, Gowsalya has called for a law to protect inter-caste couples. She believes that the protection of the state and the judiciary is the need of the hour.

She says, “After us, so many couples and people have been killed. Casteism has killed so many people. Since there is a law to protect women from violence, we are able to fight now. But there is no law against honour killings even now. The government should work towards that. The government should strengthen protection for couples. Without such laws and protection, just lip service will not save anyone. The law should state that inter-caste marriages are not wrong and also should encourage such marriages.”

In Amrutha and Pranay's case, the police had warned the couple to be careful a month before Pranay was murdered. The Telangana state police distanced themselves from taking responsibility by stating that no complaints or petitions had been filed with them. "Else we would have given protection to the couple," the investigating officers said.

Slamming this, Gowsalya points out that the job of the police is not to be neutral, but to be on the side of the law.

Reflecting on what happened to her, she says, “When a couple who marries outside their caste approaches a police station, the police seem to support the parents. They advise saying, they raised you for so many years, why do you get married without their approval, it’s wrong. They try to separate the couple. Why should the police try to remain neutral to both sides? Whose side is the law on, whose side is justice on? The government says protect people from violence. So shouldn’t they stand on the side of the couple? But no police officer will do that – because they themselves may be parents, they might think of what they would do if their sister got married like this, etc., nobody will accept it.”

Gowsalya believes that the abolition of caste is possible only through the liberation of women and their bodies. She says, “Casteism is perpetuated through a woman. Parents who buy everything the daughter wants as a child are the same ones who deny her the man she wants to marry. Why? So that they can one day turn around and ask, we bought you everything you wanted, don’t we know what’s best for you? Periyar and Ambedkar are the ones who’ve spoken about this. That’s why they said without the liberation of women, the abolition of casteism is not possible.”

She adds, “Lot of people ask, who still sees caste these days? Only the people who experience it every day know its torment.”

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