Tamil Nadu is notorious for many deaths going unreported as passed off as suicides

While up north, khap panchayats (kangaroo courts) held by dominant communities brazenly rule against inter-caste love marriages, in Tamil Nadu many cases of honour killings go unreported as the deaths are often passed off as suicides. The recent death of a 17-year-old caste Hindu girl, whose parents opposed her love affair with a Scheduled Caste youth in Ramanathapuram district indicates the serious proportions assumed by this under-reported social reality.

In many parts of Tamil Nadu, inter-caste marriages, especially those involving a Dalit bride or groom, invariably spark trouble with members of the dominant Hindu community vetoing it. Activists blame political parties that seek to mobilise votes on the plank of casteism for perpetuating this social ill.

“The death of the Dalit youth Ilavarasan of Dharmapuri district, who married Divya, a Vanniyar girl, has emboldened castiest elements. Caste outfits masquerading as political parties are ready to go to any extent to break inter-caste marriages as they fear it will spell a death knell for casteism,” charges P. Sampath, president of the Tamil Nadu Untouchability Eradication Front (TNUEF.)

Mr. Sampath claimed that in the last three years the State had witnessed 98 honour killings, but most of these cases were “covered up” as suicides.

“Even if inter-caste marriages had the blessings of parents of the bride and groom, humiliations, social boycott and ostracisation force them either to break the marriage or encourage them to eliminate the newly married in the name of honour killing,” he contends.

Feudal concept 

Caste pride and treating women as men’s possession are the prime factors behind honour killings, say some activists. Often, these killings are committed because women are considered as preserver of the purity of progeny, a feudal concept. A ‘polluted’ progeny is unthinkable.

“Intermediate communities cannot stomach the idea of transferring their genes to other communities through their women. That is why they resort to violence when their women fall in love with Dalit men, but would not mind their men marrying a Dalit woman,” says Tamil writer Imayam.

Mr. Imayam’s acclaimed novella Pethavan captured how a father facing the threat of social boycott commits suicide after allowing his daughter to elope with her Dalit boy friend.

While Imayam feels that the Tamil society with very little tolerance was unlikely to change for better, Mr. Sampath was confident that enacting a separate law to deal with honour killing would end the social evil. “Existing laws including the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, have miserably failed in checkmating honour killings,” he points ou