The police function according to a “social penal code” rather than the IPC, says Vasuki of AIDWA.

“Where is caste between a man and a woman? Is it blood in your body and pus in mine?” asks Krishnaveni, just before the second anniversary of her son Illavarasan this July.

Even as inter-caste love unions involving a Dalit — in the aftermath of Illavarasan’s death and Gokulraj’s murder — gain spotlight against heightened caste solidarities, the question of women’s agency is key, but is often dismissed.

The complaints of “kidnap/missing girls” lodged by families, often on elopement; and of couples seeking protection at police stations speak of continued hostility to inter-caste love unions, especially those involving a Dalit.

A senior police officer dubs such love affairs as “infatuation that is mistaken for love.” “The law calls it ‘kidnap,’ when the girl is under-aged. We have to ‘restore’ the girl to her parents, and file a case against the boy,” he says.

The police function according to a “social penal code” rather than the IPC, says U. Vasuki of AIDWA. There is an uncalled for zeal among the police to act even when the girl is a major and claims to have exercised her choice, she says.

In the case of Vimala Devi of Usilampatti, a caste Hindu girl, who eloped with a Dalit boy to Kerala. The police hunted the couple down in Kerala and brought them back.

Despite the girl being a major, and in clear disregard of her wishes, she was sent back with her parents. “The extent to which the police went to track them down and ‘restore’ the girl against her wish, was based on the fact that the couple was not married. For the police, it was ‘immoral’ for them to stay together,” she adds.

However, in 2013, a Dalit school teacher from Vedaranyam sat on a hunger fast outside the DIG’s office in Thanjavur after police refused to file an FIR against a Vanniyar man, for reneging on his promise of marriage after a two-year relationship. It took a month’s struggle and sit-in protest for an FIR to be lodged.

Excessive force, often beyond the scope of law, is used when a caste Hindu girl elopes with a Dalit boy. But, when a Dalit girl is the complainant, that zeal to uphold law is absent, says Birla Thangadurai, member, bonded labour monitoring committee, Nagapattinam, who took up Uma’s fight. Ms.Vasuki flags the lost agency of women.

“PMK’s Kaaduvetti Guru’s controversial statement in a public meeting in 2012 (in the run up to Dharmapuri riots), when he reportedly goaded Vanniyar men to chop off the hands of any man touching a Vanniyar woman is a case in point.”

She asks, “The question is if the woman was okay with being touched by an outsider with whom she may be in love with, instead of the men of her caste deciding for her.”

There is no need to valorise or reject teen romance, Ms. Vasuki hastens to add. “In a society, where inter-caste love is normalised, and couples don’t live in fear of retribution, more girls will opt for education and to stand on their own feet before making an insecure choice fearing caste backlash.”