On March 13, 2016, India once again woke up to the terrible reality of caste-based murders. Kausalya, then 18, and her husband, Shankar, were out shopping when a mob of murderers hacked Shankar to death in Udumalaipettai in Tamil Nadu, all for the “crime” of marrying an “upper-caste” girl. Shankar was Dalit, while Kausalya belonged to the Thevar community. They had met in an engineering college in 2014 and, soon after, fell in love. When they were spotted together by Kausalya’s relatives, her family told her, in no uncertain terms, that they were opposed to the marriage. But Kausalya didn’t give into their terror, dropped out of college, and, in the presence of friends, married Shankar. The threats never stopped but the couple didn’t flee.
Shankar’s murder was caught on a traffic camera and telecast throughout the world, showcasing the atrocities of “honour” killings. However, Kausalya was alone. She survived the lethal attack but no one came to her side. Despite the growing attention of national and international media on the case, not a single leader of a major political party came forward to take a stand for fear of offending the mighty Thevars, who saw the crime as a necessity to keep their “purity” intact.
Speaking to EVIDENCE after she was released from hospital, Kausalya narrated the entire ordeal she had to go through because of her parents’ “love for caste.”
“I thought what my parents had for me was love. I realize today that it’s love for the caste. What family is it that hires mercenaries to kill their own daughter and son-in-law? Many demands that the government should give me the education, job, and protection. I am grateful to them. I might get all this and it could be a new life for me, but what does one do with caste that made me lose my life in the first place? Shankar was a first-generation engineer and he had some dreams. This caste snatched those away too. I might get justice. But will caste ever end?”
Even after going through such trauma, Kausalya showed might and strength from her hospital bed. She named her father and uncle as two of the accused and made sure that they were put behind bars where they still are to this day. However, this move didn’t earn her any friends in her hometown. Soon after her husband’s murder, Kausalya attempted suicide but survived.
Now, Kausalya is a 20-year-old with dreams and ambitions – to end all caste-based discrimination in her home state and to educate people so that no one else has to go through what she did. She travels across the state to talk to people who have been directly affected by caste-based violence, like Tiruvannamalai, where a Dalit village was attacked and a man was killed for daring to love outside his caste.
Kausalya may be earning herself new enemies every day, but she has also garnered the support of hundreds of supporters, like Joanna, a bride who wanted Kausalya to preside over her inter-caste wedding in April 2017 in Chennai.
Joanna, an upper caste woman, met her husband, Gokula, a Dalit, when they were learning how to play a percussion instrument together three years ago.
“It didn’t matter that she was much younger than us. What she has been doing is empowering,” Joanna told Deccan Chronicle.
Kausalya doesn’t believe in God anymore. Instead, she found her answers elsewhere.
“It’s only after reading Periyar (social reformer E V Ramasamy) and B R Ambedkar that I could find reasons for many of my problems. I no longer think God will take care of everything,”
she said after a speech on her husband’s first death anniversary.
This wasn’t the first “honour” killing in India, and nor will it be the last.
Whether it’s caste, religion, or class, India is no stranger to this horrific crime. Even with increased awareness in the 21st century, there are people in positions of power and influence who won’t blink before wanting to kill another human being to maintain the “purity” of their identity.
One can only fight, as Kausalya is doing now, and make sure that this dangerous mindset of discrimination doesn’t seep into the next generation.