No words are sufficient to describe the tragedy that befell Ilavarasan, the Dalit youth who allegedly committed suicide in Dharmapuri, Tamil Nadu. What led him to take this extreme step was, perhaps, his wife Divya Nagarajan’s decision to stay with her mother. Ironically, even she cannot be blamed, as both are victims of caste hatred. Though they were adults and did not commit any crime when they decided to live together and raise a family, it shocked the conservative elements in society who could not digest the fact that a Dalit boy could marry a Vanniyar girl. When the girl’s father chose to commit suicide, rather than suffer taunts from his castemen, Vanniyars went on a rampage against the Dalits.
It was not the first time that an inter-caste marriage had happened in Dharmapuri. Thanks to the social justice campaign unleashed by Periyar, founder of the Dravidian movement, there have been countless cases of inter-caste and inter-religious marriage in Tamil Nadu. What was surprising about the Dharmapuri riots was the ferocity with which the Vanniyars — an intermediate caste — targeted the Dalits. The Jayalalithaa-led AIADMK government rightly saw it as an orchestrated riot in which the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) played a sinister role. The party saw in the inter-caste marriage an opportunity to drum up support among the Vanniyars.
Violence in the name of “honour” is becoming common in the north also. In Haryana, for instance, the Khap panchayats have been taking the law into their own hands to prevent inter-caste marriages. Even the high court’s intervention and police protection have not saved couples from their wrath. It is surprising that the government has not responded with a national law to deal with “honour killings and violence”, as suggested by the 242nd Law Commission. Even the recent J S Verma Committee, which looked into rape, suggested a national law. The Centre should come up with a suitable legal remedy.