Dharmapuri: About eight months ago, two young lovers —Dalit youth Ilavarasan, 19, and Vanniyar girl Divya, 18,—eloped from their home in Dharmapuri and got married in a remote temple outside the state borders. Unlike other marriages, the union of these two teenagers caused a violent pandemonium that was unprecedented in the history of the district.
The girl’s father committed suicide and now her husband has ended his life unable to bear the pain of being separated from her by caste pressures; several homes in the villages where Ilavarasan and Divya belonged to, Natham Colony and Sellankottai, have been razed to the ground while the remaining are decaying; hundreds of families who had lived at peace with each other despite their caste differences and economic conditions no longer look at the rival community face to face and have become sworn enemies.
To blame caste-based politics and caste hatred for the chain of incidents over these eight months out of Nayakankottai and surrounding areas, which was the cradle of Naxal movement in TN back in ’70s and ’80s and still bears a huge Marxist-Leninist symbol of sickle-hammer with statues of Naxal leaders Appu and Balan right in front of the Natham Colony, would be a myopic excuse for putting away an impending disaster.
If the investigating authorities, the rights activists and social commentators want to seek the truth, they have to go to Nayakankottai, Natham Colony, Anna Nagar and, most importantly, Sellankottai, where Divya was born and raised, and talk to the locals.
Any old-timer in Dharmapuri knows that villages and hamlets surrounding Nayakankottai are blatantly pro-naxal and their lives were largely influenced by naxal leaders until as late as a decade ago.
When the Reds slowly moved out of the villages, other powerful and more manipulative groups took centrestage. They decide on marriages, break-ups, selling and buying of land and almost everything else in the region. Their growth over the past decade is responsible for many of the malaise affecting Dharmapuri today, including rampant child marriages, say the locals.
Among all the bizarre twists and turns that the Divya-Ilavarasan love story has taken, three incidents are pivotal to understanding what happened in the lives of the lovers.
Nagarajan, the office assistant at the Nayakankottai Agricultural Cooperative Society located outside Natham Colony, who allegedly cooperated with police in trying to trace his daughter, suddenly committed suicide on November 7, 2012 in his home. Why did he commit suicide?
According to villagers in Sellankottai, Nagarajan’s daughter Divya had eloped with Ilavarasan at least a month before he killed himself. Despite being a complainant, Nagarajan was asked to visit the Krishnapuram police station every day and interrogated for seven days since November 1, 2012.
While nobody knows what transpired during these interrogations, the sub-inspector at Krishnapuram police station, Perumal, a Dalit, was suspended for dereliction of duty in connection with the Divya-Ilavarsan case on November 10, 2012. Why was an SI suspended in a woman-missing case after her father committed suicide?
Following Nagarajan’s death, large-scale violence was unleashed by members of Vanniyar community on Dalit colonies of Natham, Anna Nagar and Kondampatti where allegedly hundreds of homes were razed to the ground in five hours.
Roads were blocked to prevent police and fire service personnel from helping villagers and some political party workers unleashed mayhem.
Dalit residents of Natham claim that such violence was unprecedented where Dalits and Vanniyars have been living as brothers for centuries. If the two communities did not have major clashes for so many years, why now?
The last and most important puzzle in the case is the dramatic turnaround by Divya, who had braved her parents and community members to elope with a 19-year-old, unemployed youth and lived with him for several months. But, suddenly, she claims she never wants to return to him. Why this turnaround?
Next: ‘Pay Rs 3L, get your daughter back’
‘Pay Rs 3L, get your daughter back’
Dharmapuri: To get an answer to all these questions, one has to first find out if the residents of Nayakankottai and Sellankottai are so opposed to inter-caste marriages and the extent to which they would go to prevent it.
Selvaraj, 48, from Anna Nagar near Natham Colony, is a casual labourer working at construction sites in far-off cities. He says Dalits marrying Vanniyars is not a new trend at all.
“Even in our colony, of just 55 families, one family is a Vanniyar-Dalit couple. They are happy and have now gone to the GH to lend support to Ilavarasan’s parents,” he claims.
Not just in Anna Nagar, at least six inter-caste couples live in Natham Colony and a few others in Kondampatti, the three Dalit colonies that were razed by an angry Vanniyar mob. If it has never been a problem, what is unique in the Divya-Ilavarasan marriage?
“This region has changed over the past few years. This kind of problem was not prevalent here when the naxals were around, this is a new trend,” he says.
Dalit residents of all colonies in and around believe that the mob violence and razing of their homes is just not a fallout of the suicide of Nagarajan.
“To think that the suicide of Divya’s father led to attacks is absurd,” says Vedi, a resident of Kondampatti. He points out that the attackers hurled hundreds of petrol bombs.
“They had also blocked the roads on either side using chopped trees. All this could not have been be organised in a short span of time,” he argues. “This is a planned attack.”
Located around 2 km from Natham Colony, and accessible only through a dirt-filled road between groundnut fields, is Sellankottai where Divya lived with her parents Nagarajan and Thenmozhi in a modest home away from the main road.
Her house has remained locked since the day she returned to her mother after she was told that her mother was ill and needed her help. At least a dozen police officials guarded their home on Friday when a furore was breaking out over Ilavarasan’s death, just a few kilometres at the Dharmapuri GH.
Elsewhere in Sellankottai, women gather around in small groups and whisper about the plight of their lives. Most men have gone for work in other districts and distant cities as agriculture has not been as supportive.
Govindasamy (23), who had just completed college and returned home to stay with his parents, is the only male present in the village on Friday afternoon. Neatly clad in a sports T-shirt and shorts, he hardly looks like a man who would go on the rampage against a village because a boy fell in love with a girl.
“None of the villagers here is opposed to love marriages,” says Govindasamy. “We have also grown up watching young men fall in love with women like the rest of the country. We would not oppose a love marriage if it was genuine,” he says.
The womenfolk soon gather around Govindasamy and tell him not to talk to the scribes. “Media and government have been extremely unfair to us. After the violence, 55 men from the village were jailed. At least 17 college students were put in jail and as a result of this, they had to discontinue their studies,” says Lakshmi (name changed), a resident of Sellankottai.
The women claim that while there was a lot of coverage for sufferings of Dalit colonies, not even the collector or local MLA bothered to hear their version of the story.
“Let them try to answer why Nagarajan committed suicide more than a month after his daughter eloped with a Dalit youth. If he was so struck by shame, he would have committed suicide immediately, not a month later,” says Lakshmi.
Villagers at Sellankottai claim that Nagarajan who had to walk past Natham Colony every day to his cooperative society bank on the Dharmapuri-Thirupattur main road was harassed and verbally abused daily.
“It is a tactic used by some political party leaders to intimidate parents of girls who elope with ‘other’ men. When the humiliation reaches unbearable limits, a mediator would enter the scene and negotiate an amount for returning the girl back to the family and restore the family honour,” says another woman at Sellankottai who refuses to be identified.
She claims that in this particular case, the mediator was sub-inspector Perumal who used his official machinery to force Nagarajan to agree to Rs 3 lakh to get his daughter back.
“Only after Nagarajan died, senior police officials found out about Perumal’s role and they immediately suspended him,” she says.
Residents of Sellankottai point out that the arson and related activity were not triggered by the isolated death of Nagarajan or eloping of Divya.
“For years, this has been the practice. Whenever an inter-caste pair are in love, local politicians from the same community intimidate the parents of the girl against accepting the groom. They threaten to ostracise the family if they agree to the marriage. Once the girl’s father disapproves, the rival caste-based party leaders arrange for the elopement and marriage of the love birds. After the two marry, it is a sheer game of numbers where a deal is struck and the girl returns to her family,” says Lakshmi (name changed).
In the Divya-Ilavarasan case, reliable sources point out that a deal was struck for Rs 3 lakh at a hotel in Dharmapuri town which was notorious for such kangaroo courts. “Despite Nagarajan agreeing to pay the amount, he was harassed by police and rival community leaders which could have led to his suicide,” a police source said.
Senior police officials in the region point out such kangaroo courts have been prevalent in Dharmapuri and the surrounding areas for a long time and many have made a killing out of it.
A police officer said that usually the money demanded is anywhere between Rs 1 lakh and Rs 3 lakh. “Unfortunately, we cannot invoke the law to prevent such activities as there are not enough provisions in the rule books. In the absence of such a mechanism, it is extremely difficult to curb the menace,” the officer explained.
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