The Lede
Murugesan and Chandralekha, a couple who defied caste for love
Murugesan and Chandralekha, a couple who defied caste for love

What Valentine’s Day Means To Tamil Nadu

Sudhakar Balasundaram

Sudhakar Balasundaram

Murugesan and Chandralekha, a couple who defied caste for love

In a society riven with caste animosity, February 14 means a true celebration of love beyond caste and religious barriers

They are full of shy giggles. Young couple Murugesan and Chandralekha are yet to get over their shyness at being newlyweds.

For them, love is everything. Especially when it has cost Chandralekha her family ties.

Both Chandralekha and Murugesan are residents of Annur, near Coimbatore. A chance meeting set the stage for a romance that blossomed quickly.

But Chandralekha’s parents were not happy with the choice of groom, when she told them about Murugesan. “My parents told me he is Kannada-speaking and we are Telugu-speaking so it is not possible to marry him,” said Chandralekha. Possibly the fact that Murugesan was born into a Dalit family, only made their animosity worse.

“Her parents called me aside and threatened me too,” said Murugesan. “But we did not bother about all that.”

Murugesan, holder of a BA (Tamil) degree from the Kovai Arts College works in a supermarket and was confident that he had found the love of his life. Chandralekha too made her decision and both got married.

Love though, especially inter-caste love, more often than not, comes with a price tag in Tamil Nadu. Chandralekha’s side of the family does not visit her anymore. “Sometimes I feel sad that I have lost my family, but I am happy with my husband,” she says.

When Love Leaps Over Faith

“We are both advocates and we studied in college together,” says Loganathan, grinning a fond moustachioed smiled at his wife, Taslima Nasreen.

Loganathan smiles when he recounts how he was very firm about marrying a girl chosen by his parents. He wanted to be the proper, dutiful son.

He did not think of Taslima in terms of love, he said. But they shared such a good relationship that they both decided to open an office together after they graduated as lawyers.

Taslima clearly loved Loganathan but did not tell him about her feelings. But when an alliance was fixed for Loganathan, she could keep silent no more.

“When she has kept such love for me in her heart for all these years without saying a word to me, I could understand how deep that love was. I decided that I should marry her and return that love three times more,” says Loganathan.

Parents from both sides had no issues with the wedding. Only Taslima’s elder brother was against the alliance but his parents managed to bring him around.

They got married in September 2014. “We have given each other the assurance that we will not interfere in each other’s faith. We each follow our own faith and we also gave our son a religion-neutral name – Thaayinban,” she smiles.

Love And Tamil Nadu

For all the romance in Kollywood films and the state’s obsession with falling in love, caste and its perils remain a strong deterrent to young couples.

A number of chilling examples have been set in the recent past. Divya and Ilavarasan from Dharmapuri whose love affair met with a tragic end in 2013 – Vanniyar (Most Backward Caste or MBC) Divya and Dalit Ilavarasan fell in love, married and caste anger boiled over in Natham village, Dharmapuri burning an entire Dalit village to the ground. Ilavarasan died – allegedly committing suicide by placing his head on the railway tracks, though many allege murder.

Then came the murder of another young Dalit Gokulraj, who happened to be speaking with a classmate, a young woman from the dominant Gounder (OBC) caste. He was found dead in an eerily similar manner as Ilavarasan in 2015. The murderer Yuvaraj, a champion of marrying within caste, was subsequently jailed.

This murder was followed by the horrific daylight hacking of Dalit youth Sankar and his Thevar (OBC caste) wife Kausalya in Udumalaipet in 2016. Sankar died but Kausalya survived grievous injuries to testify against her own parents. Her father and cousin are amongst others who received the death sentence in this case.

Though these are the more publicised cases, there are a number of others who have not received much press attention.

The 2016 Crime in India data published by the National Crime Records Bureau, the latest available to the public, shows that only one honour killing has taken place in Tamil Nadu. There were 71 honour killings in India including 1 in Tamil Nadu, 18 in Madhya Pradesh, 16 in Uttar Pradesh, 10 in Gujarat, 10 in Maharashtra and another 10 in Punjab.

The statistics, according to activists, are not a reflection of the reality on the ground as police generally tag caste-related murders as suicides or murder for some other causes.

Kathir, who runs non-profit Evidence, deals with issues of caste-related atrocities. “If you look at the last five years, 187 caste-based honour killings have been perpetrated in Tamil Nadu alone,” he says. “Inter-caste has a legal definition – it is only between Dalit and non-Dalit castes. Tamil Nadu is at the second rank amongst states where inter-caste marriages do not take place. This is the sorry state of affairs here. So we really need to introspect on what we are really talking about in terms of social equality,” he says.

Kathir also points out that a man and a woman getting married is not to be celebrated as liberation, it is only a natural act.

But The Fight Goes On

But Tamil Nadu fights back in bits and pieces even as tradition ties knots around them.

Thanthai Periyar Dravidar Kazhagam (TPDK), a fringe Periyarist outfit promoting rationalism and abhorrence of caste, held a cake-cutting celebration for Valentine’s Day. Couple who had had inter-caste marriages cut the cake amid cries of “Long live love” and “Destroy caste”.

General Secretary of the TPDK K. Ramakiruttinan said – “Love is a natural feeling since the beginning of time. It is only in India that caste and religious fanatics act against lovers. Those who fall in love and wish to marry should be provided with government reservation and protection. An Emergency Law should be passed against ‘honour’ killings,” he said.

And in Kumbakonam, fringe Hindutva outfit Indu Makkal Katchi conducted a protest against what they call ‘aabasa kaadhal’ (obscene love).

Members of this outfit sat outside the Darasuram Iravadiswarar temple. Member of the Indu Makkal Katchi, Sivachariyar said – “If any lovers come to this area, we will get them married. They have run away out of fear of us,” he said.

(With inputs by Sandhya Ravishankar)