Aarushi verdict brings focus back on TN ‘honour’ killings

CHENNAI: Convicted for killing their daughter, apparently to protect the family honour, the Talwars’ motive might seem ominous. But in the southern reaches of Tamil Nadu, the so-called ‘honour’ killings are commonplace, even condoned by communities. The retrograde rules of a deep-rooted caste system and the social inequities have seen daughters being murdered by parents for marrying out of caste.

Evidence, a non-governmental organization working for dalit welfare in the state’s southern districts, has collated data that shows there have been more than 17 such killings in the past one year and more than 100 in the last five years. The actual numbers could be more, it says.

The case of Divya, which grabbed headlines in November last year, was an example of societal pressure driving apart a young couple of different castes. The suicide of Divya’s father following her marriage to a dalit youth triggered a caste backlash. After Divya left her husband E Elavarasan, the youth committed suicide in July this year.

There is not much data available to give an indication of the extent of the problem, primarily because cases are registered either as suicide, murder or suspicious death without an indication of the nature of killings. If the case involves a dalit and a non-dalit, it is registered under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. Activists have been demanding a separate law in cases related to such killings.

Activists also cite the recent killing of a girl from Tirunelveli who married outside her caste. In September, a 17-year-old girl was allegedly murdered by her two brothers in Tirunelveli for falling in love with a dalit youth. The two poured acid into her mouth and hung her from the ceiling of their house in Seevalaperi village.

Recently, Evidence held a campaign against honour killing. “About 900 women were killed in the past one year. We suspect a good number of them may be ‘honour’ killings,” Evidence managing director Kathir said. The People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) has also been organising seminars, discussions and protests against killings for ‘honour’.

PUCL state secretary S Balamurugan said, “The accused in most cases are acquitted as family members, who were witnesses, backed them,” he said. “We are witnessing a dangerous trend in recent months where caste outfits in the state have begun to justify honour killings in open forums.

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