Se Gunasekar had an inter-caste marriage. No, it wasn't a 'love marriage', a cringe-worthy term that only applies to India because while for the rest of the world, love is a prime requirement for marriage, here it is the least of our worries. Caste, is our one and only requirement. However, having grown up on Periyar's ideals, Gunasekar was insistent on marrying someone outside his caste. But seeing how so many intercaste couples were risking their lives just to get married, he and a few others opened a shelter. The shelter is for couples fleeing their murderous families.
Before we go into the details of the home, I was curious to learn about Gunasekar's 'arranged' intercaste marriage. "My family is full of Periyarists and so I always knew that I wanted to marry someone outside my caste because Periyar said that intercaste marriage was one of the ways to abolish caste," Gunasekar said. So the young man was determined to fall in love, "But somehow that didn't ever work out," he says laughing. So he went and registered at the Periyar Thidal, a lot of people who want to have an intercaste marriage, usually come to the Periyar Thidal. "They said in case I wasn't able to meet anyone this way, there were also women at the SOS Village in Tambaram that had grown up in the orphanage and were now living independently. So I went there and submitted my biodata, a month later they told me that someone was interested," he said.
"She was working in Delhi but was looking to come back to Tamil Nadu and get married. So we met and we talked and then decided to get married. Its been 22 years," Gunasekar said, smiling.
According to the 2016 National Crime Records Bureau statistics, 77 people were murdered by their families or communities for falling in love or marrying out of their caste. The actual numbers could be much larger. Honour killing is neither new nor rare, but it was the 2003 murders that really shook Gunasekar. A Vanniyar girl, D Kannagi and Dalit boy, S Murugesan were murdered by family members in Cuddalore district. The two had met in college and gotten married in secret knowing fully well that their parents would not approve. When they eventually ran away, the family tracked them down and poisoned them both, allegedly in front of all their community members.
Gunasekar said that after hearing that story, he decided that he wanted to help intercaste couples. Gunasekar then started and has been the managing trustee of Adhalinal Kaadhal Seiveer (AKS), an NGO that counsels and provides shelter for just married or unmarried (awaiting marriage) intercaste couples across the state. Besides him, advocate Ilamathi Chinnaswamy from Thanjavur, Angaiyar Kanni from Chennai, an advocate from Porkodi in Madurai and a police inspector from Trichy called Tamizh Sundar have come together to set up branches in their own regions.
Gunasekar, who was an auditor decided to study law in order to be fully prepared to face the law. He wanted to train himself in the field so he would be able to stand up to all the opposition the couple might face and also defend them in a court of law. And since 2011, Gunasekar has done just that. He has managed to get 150 odd couples married, "I stopped counting after 100," he said laughing. The first couple that approached him for help to get married ended up staying in his house for 2-3 months, Gunasekar tells us.
"The girl was like a daughter to me, she looked after all of us like she was a family member. So I helped them both as much as I could and then they found their own way," he said proudly. But helping out these couples would also mean having to face the wrath of their parents and that definitely couldn't be easy. Gunasekar says that when he initially started working with these couples, he tried to initiate a dialogue between the families.
"I asked the girl if anybody in her family had had a love marriage and she said her cousin had. So I spoke to that relative and tried to get him to support the couple. But ironically, he brought caste into it again and said his caste was still better but accepting a Dalit in their family is impossible," Gunasekar scoffed. The next day the family lodged a complaint with the police claiming that their daughter had been kidnapped and that Gunasekar had them in his house. When the police summoned him to the police station, he refused to appear and instead got the couple married.
"Their families cursed me and many families since then have also cursed me. But the people who approach me are adults and the law allows them to get married, so who is anyone to stop them. After that I realised it's best not to involve the families," he said. Caste is like a rabid dog, Gunasekar said, as long as the dog is well, people are going to love it but the minute it becomes rabid you don't care for it anymore, even if you want to. "It's the same with people. They will love you as long as they don't know your caste, as soon as they do, all the love disappears. Caste is a disease," he explained.
Gunasekar says that the groom's family is usually more accepting. The girl's family invariably always lodges a missing or a kidnapping complaint despite knowing fully well that their daughter has eloped. When faced with such a complaint, Gunasekar says that the case that he makes is that in the care of the family, either of the two risked being locked up. The other risk is that they could be murdered or they could also be pushed to attempt suicide. "So we also file an FIR against the family," he added.
Doctors say that the first hour after a stroke or a heart attack is the most crucial time in the patient's life. It's the same with honour killing, Gunasekar says. "The first week is the most crucial. If the couple is somehow able to protect themselves during that one week, they are at a lesser risk of attack." Therefore, it is for these golden hours that Gunasekar provides the shelter for runaway couples, "It takes about a week to get all the formalities done, so during that time they can stay there," he added.
Sometimes though the girl also happens to be underage, in such instances Gunasekar hands them over to the Child Welfare Committee. They stay there till they come of age and then if they feel the same way, then they are gotten married. Gunasekar gets most of the couples married at the police station, so nobody's family can cause any trouble.
Gunasekar and his team have managed to set up branches in Tirchy, Tirupur, Madurai and Chennai. This means that couples don't have to travel far and wide to get help. "But this is the job of the government. They should have established such centre to provide relief," he said. Most organisations aim to expand but Gunasekar and team are hoping they don't have to. They hope the government will provide help and hopefully lesser couples would have to flee their families.
All the five fund the NGO themselves. Gunasekar, despite being a lawyer continues to be an auditor. He only slips into the black gown every time a caste case comes up, "All the money that comes from my advocate work directly goes towards the NGO and its work. I only use my advocate skills for that cause, nothing else," the 48-year-old said. With Periyar and Ambedkar by his side, we're sure Gunasekar and his team can give life to a lot of love stories and may we have more happy endings.
(This article was originally published on EdexLive)