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Young widow Kausalya turns crusader to book her father

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(G.N.S.) Dt. 26
Mayilvaganan
Kausalya was 19 when she fell in love with Shankar in 2015 at the engineering college where they were studying. She was a middle-class girl from the politically strong Thevar community, raised in Palani in Tamil Nadu. He was a Pallar, a scheduled caste whose father was a daily wager in Komaralingam nearby. Shankar was the first to go to college from his family.
Kausalya’s family opposed the match but she left home and married Shankar in a temple. “For the eight months I lived with him, he was more motherly than my mother to me. He would cook for me, wash my clothes, take care of me like a child. He did things that society considers women’s chores,” she says. “For others, love means many things. For me, love gives women self-respect.” Their bliss came to a shuddering end on March 13 last year when Shankar was hacked to death with sickles near Udumalpet bus stand. Kausalya, who had received hundreds of threatening calls from her family during her marriage, was grievously injured.
The injuries healed but the wounds didn’t, and the victim turned crusader, helping bring her husband’s killers to book. She was the prime eyewitness and testified against her parents. She told the court of the harassment meted out to her and Shankar. Despite enormous pressure, she stood her ground.
Her efforts paid off. Last week, a Tirupur trial court sentenced her father Chinnasamy and five hirelings to death. One person got life imprisonment. Her mother Annalakshmi, uncle Pandithurai and his friend were acquitted for want of evidence. Kausalya says she will challenge the acquittal.
She says her aim was to prevent another Shankar from meeting the same fate. “It was caste that killed Shankar, snuffing out the ambitions of a first-generation engineer graduate. I resolved to fight against it.” Now she participates in meetings and campaigns against caste in between her clerical job at Wellington town in the Nilgiris. She runs the Shankar Thanipayirchi Mandram, a free children’s tuition centre, where she also teaches ‘parai’, a drum instrument whose music is often associated with Dalit liberation. She refers to Dalit kids as ‘our children’. “Our children need education. I’m going to work for it,” says Kausalya, seated in the bright yellow, terraced home she has built for her in-laws from government compensation and contributions from well-wishers.
Kathir, executive director of Evidence, an NGO working for Dalit rights, says her transformation has been “phenomenal”. “No one else has taken such a strong stand and fought a case against her father and mother,” says Kathir, citing honour killings where the women returned to their parents. According to a study by Evidence, Tamil Nadu has seen 89 honour killings in three years till June 2016. In most cases, the girl’s parents would invariably be the accused and go scot free for want of witnesses. In Shankar’s case, the CCTV footage proved crucial. “I haven’t watched it, I don’t want to relive that moment,” says Kausalya, who never refers to her parents as father and mother; they are just the accused, Chinnasamy and Annalakshmi.
The last one year has been hard. Depressed, she even tried to take her own life last May. “She left the house saying she wants to go for a walk, spent more than an hour at the graveyard where Shankar was cremated. Later that day she attempted suicide,” says Shankar’s father, C Velusamy. It proved to be a turning point. N Amirtham, an activist from All India Democratic Women’s Association who’s been working with Kausalya since the murder, says she has become a different person after the suicide attempt. “That’s when she started reading books of E V R Periyar,” Amirtham says. “I have learnt to drive a Bullet too,” says Kausalya, sporting denims and cropped hair. “The way I look and travel is my choice.”

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