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Opinion Columnists 15 Mar 2020 Caste kills more in ...
Sujatha Surepally is a professor of sociology at Satvahana University and a dalit and women’s rights activist

Caste kills more in India than coronavirus

Published Mar 15, 2020, 10:31 am IST
Updated Mar 15, 2020, 11:28 pm IST
What we describe as 'honour killing' is invariably violence against Dalits
File photo of Amrutha and Pranay Perumalla, and her father Maruthi Rao
 File photo of Amrutha and Pranay Perumalla, and her father Maruthi Rao

As long as caste in India does exist, Hindus will hardly intermarry or have any social intercourse with outsiders and if Hindus migrate to other regions on earth, Indian caste would become a world problem. – Dr B.R. Ambedkar

Most 'honour killings' reported in our newspapers are caste killings, or killings in the name of caste. The issue of 'honour' involves not just dominant caste families but also others. The construct of 'honour' is meant to control women and curb their liberty, especially with respect to the right of choosing their life partners. 

 

Marriage is an institution which has strengthened the caste system. Caste underpins marriage and anyone who challenges it faces torture and nasty, brutish violence, frequently resulting in death. This even as the Constitution declares caste discrimination and untouchability offences.

Since formation in 2014, Telangana has witnessed at least 50 murders related to inter-caste love liaisons and marriages. In many cases, one of the partners was dalit. Desidisa, Kula Nirmulana Porata Samithi, Kula Vivaksha Porata Samithi and Kulaantara Vivahaala Vedika documented these cases. Several others went unreported.

 

A few weeks ago, US President Donald Trump and his family visited the Taj Mahal. One wonders whether Trump, multiple instances of whose sexual misconduct are well-known, or Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who reportedly deserted his wife, will ever understand the language of love. As of the moment, India is fast becoming a global symbol of hatred and bigotry. 

On the eve of International Women’s Day, news began to break about the suicide of Maruthi Rao at Arya Vaishya Bhavan, in Hyderabad. Maruthi Rao had been accused of murdering Pranay Perumalla, a young Ddalit, in September 2018. He allegedly killed Perumalla for marrying his only daughter, Amruta Varshini. Amruta belongs to the Vaishya community. Pranay’s murder had sparked outrage almost equal to that caused by Rohith Vemula’s suicide in 2016.

 

While Pranay was killed, Amrutha was trolled on social media by Vaishyas. She was condemned for having been an unfaithful daughter. Even though Pranay was dead, the trolls did not spare him either, accusing him of covetousness. Not a word was said to Maruthi Rao for having so viciously ended a young life.

Maruthi Rao, his brother Shravan and five other accomplices in Pranay’s murder were in jail for some time. After coming out on bail, Maruthi Rao tried his best to bring his daughter home. He was rebuffed by Amrutha. She was committed to raising her newborn child in the company and care of her in-laws. 

 

That rebuff drove Maruthi Rao to suicide. And the trolling started again. This time, Amrutha was held responsible for her father’s death. Clearly, the trolls had not been chastened by the depth of the tragedy. 

Police reports, meanwhile, say that another body had been found, this time at Maruthi Rao’s farmhouse, a month back. Pranay’s murder case was also coming to trial after police filed a 1,600-page charge-sheet. Relatives say there was also an ongoing property dispute between Rao and his brother. Perhaps, Rao sought solace in Amrutha’s return, but she was steadfast and that did not come about.

 

The problem is the fact that no one shamed Rao right at the start. This is the reason why caste murders are so common in our society. In 2018, Gaddi Kumar, belonging to the Yadav community, was found dead in Shankarapatnam of Karimnagar district. It is said that he had been in love with a Goud girl. The girl went on to reveal that her relatives had killed him.  

In 2017, Manthani Madhukar, a dalit man, was killed; sparking off outrage and resulting in a second post-mortem after politicians and relatives of the Munnuru Kapu girl he had been dating tried to pass off his death as suicide. Till date, the post-mortem report hasn’t come out.

 

A few days after Pranay’s murder, Sandeep, a dalit man, was attacked for marrying Madhavi, an upper caste woman, by Madhavi’s father, Manohara Chary near Gokul Theatre in Hyderabad. Both suffered injuries. Madhavi is still undergoing surgeries. Sandeep’s mother, a widow, is taking care of her despite financial stress.

In February 2019, there were two other murders – those of Shushruta, a dalit pharmacy graduate, and her four-month-old, Devansh. They were burnt alive by Ramesh, the husband, who belongs to a backward class. The incident happened at Ghatkesar near Hyderabad. Shushruta had been tortured from day one by her in-laws. She had been driven out of her marital home. Shushruta struggled for justice, knocked on the doors of every institution, including the state human rights commission. She had wanted to challenge her husband who said, “dalit women do not stick to one person, they have loose morals”. 

 

If we collect data nationwide, we will find more people dying of “honour killings” than on the border or of an epidemic. These days, parents match the financial status of the bride and groom before agreeing to a marriage. But when it comes to marrying dalits, women are deserted and men murdered.

There is another difference when it comes to dalit men and women. When a dalit man marries a dominant caste woman, it is called an Ambedkarite marriage. If something similar is done by a woman, it is still seen as betrayal by the family. 

 

The important question is, how successful are parentally arranged marriages? 

It is shocking to hear a woman police officer say that children who marry of their own choice are being unfaithful to their parents. India boasts of being a progressive society and now with the visit of Trump, the Indian diaspora, too, wants us to believe that we have reached the pinnacle of progress. But we are utterly wrong in treating marriage as a family affair, outside the purview of the courts and the law. 

The fact is that we have failed to understand simple truths necessary for the success of the family. No family will survive unless we respect the individual’s freedoms. Love, failed or successful, erases the man-made gap between castes and religions, gives hope to a society.

 

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