Gurusamy, a Dalit, and Sudoroli, who belongs to the Reddiar caste, were married since October 13, 2022, but he was picked up by the police on November 26 and forced to spend the night in custody.
Gurusamy, a young Dalit Ph.D., had to spend almost 24 hours in police custody after his wife’s father filed a ‘missing person’ complaint and leveled allegations of theft. Gurusamy’s wife Sudoroli, who belongs to the Reddiar (Backward Class) caste, is by no means missing. They have been married since October 13 this year.
In several letters to police officials and the Pollachi court, 23-year-old Sudoroli said she left her home of her own free will. She also submitted marriage documents and relevant proof of age to prove that she is of legal age and married. The woman also wrote to the Rajamangalam police station asking them to stop investigating the missing person case. But ever since she first told her parents that she was in love with Gurusamy, the couple has been facing harassment.
In her petition submitted to the Pollachi Magistrate’s Court, Sudoroli details the kind of harassment they faced. After their marriage, Sudoroli’s father Govindhan filed a complaint at the Rajamangalam police station in Chennai that his daughter was missing. He also accused his daughter and Gurusamy of theft in the same FIR. The couple and their lawyer Sudha Gandhi have repeatedly denied the claims in written statements to the police and the court. It was only under pressure from anti-caste activists, including Kowsalya, that the police finally agreed to release Gurusamy on Sunday 27 November. Speaking to TNM, Sudha Gandhi said his detention was the latest case of harassment they faced after Sudoroli’s family came to know about the couple. The lawyer approached a senior official for intervention.
In her petition, Sudoroli said that she and Gurusamy fell in love a year and a half ago at the University of Madras, where she was pursuing her MA in English. Guru was enrolled as a PhD candidate at the university. “When my parents found out I was in love, they wanted to keep me under house arrest. I was in deep mental stress. They pressured me to marry another person, which violated my right to choose,” she wrote in the petition. On October 13, Sudoroli managed to leave the house and the couple went to Periyar Thidal in Chennai, where they had a self-respect wedding, a simple exchange of vows without ceremony, which is legal under Tamil Nadu’s Hindu Marriage Act. They also registered their marriage under the Tamil Nadu Marriage Registration Act and obtained the certificate accordingly on October 18. The couple took refuge in Pollachi. There they had the help of Kowsalya and Sudha and several other activists. Because of Gurusamy’s work, they came to his home in Chennai earlier this week and arrested him.
Guru was arrested by three plainclothes police from his home in Perambur the previous evening on November 26, Sudha claims. She also said that he was not taken directly to the Rajamangalam police station but was driven around town in a police vehicle by Station Inspector Kannan.
After lodging the FIR, Sudoroli submitted written statements and documents to the Coimbatore Superintendent of Police (SP), Rajamangalam Police Station Inspector and the Pollachi Magistrate’s Court to prove that she was an adult and legally married. In his petition, he further says that the couple approached the Pollachi All Women’s Police Station (AWPS) and sought protection fearing for their lives on October 20. Sudoroli also says in her letter to the Coimbatore SP that her parents and the Rajamangalam police have arrived. two days later at Pollachi AWPS where her parents humiliated her with abusive language.
Govindhan’s FIR claims the couple absconded with diamond jewelery worth over Rs 11 lakh, 64 sovereigns (512 gm) of gold and Rs 4 lakh in cash. Calling it “false allegations”, Sudoroli says in her petition that she walked away with 10 sovereigns (80g) of gold jewellery, which she claims she will return to her parents through a lawyer.
The weeks leading up to Gurusamy’s arrest were spent following up on paperwork, moving between different police stations in the hope of relief, Sudha says.
Pass a law against honor killing, activists urge
Thamizham Manavurimai Sangam, an organization that helps inter-caste couples, has been a pillar of support for Sudoroli and Gurusamy. Kowsalya, who is the organization’s vice president, has a deeply personal reason for the work she does. The killing of her husband V Shankar, a Dalit, in broad daylight on March 13, 2016 by his own family from the Thevar caste shook Tamil Nadu. But Kowsalya, who was also attacked that day and survived with injuries, insists that caste killings and harassment of inter-caste couples will continue unabated unless a law against honor killings is passed. The draft law was submitted to Chief Minister MK Stalin by the Dalit Network of Human Rights Defenders earlier this year. The bill titled ‘Freedom of Marriage and Association and Prohibition of Honor Crimes Act, 2022’ seeks to proactively protect couples who may face threats based on religion, caste, class, gender and sexuality.
Read: Anti-caste coalition drafts bill to end honor killings: Here’s what it says
“If the law was passed, when the police do something like this, they would use it to fight the couple,” says Kowsalya. According to her, if the law were valid, the parents and even the police would be held responsible in this case. “We wouldn’t be so unpunished. Guru’s case is one of many. It took about forty of us to fight for him and secure his release. Think about how many such examples there are in society. Will they all have activists to help them? But if this law existed, everyone could fight it for themselves,” he says.
As Kowsalya points out, the bill is not limited to the extreme of honor killings. It specifically provides an extensive range of cases that can be ‘considered criminal victimization in the name of defamation of caste, religion or any social norm.’ It also considers threats of physical harm, sexual violence, forced terminations of pregnancy, intimidation, causing psychological trauma by pressuring for divorce, confiscation of important personal documents and items such as laptops, phones, etc.
Referring to his horrific case, Kowsalya asks, “How many more Shankars and Kowsals must happen? How many more Illavarasans and Divyas have to happen?” Illavarasan was a Dalit youth brutally murdered in 2013 in Dharmapuri district of Tamil Nadu over his marriage to Dhiva of the Vanniyar caste (the most backward caste), which is politically powerful in pockets of northern Tamil Nadu. including Dharmapuri.
“What if the case of Guru and Sudaroli also went like this? Or the Guru ended up in jail. Sudaroli could be kidnapped by relatives as this usually happens in inter-caste marriages. Even the mental agony they went through would be covered by the law if a law against honor killings was passed,” says Kowsalya.
Sudoroli and Gurusamy’s lawyer, Sudha, echoes Kausalya’s thoughts. “If the law existed, it would be important. The Tamil Nadu government needs to pass the bill, but laws alone are not enough. Too often I have seen the police run kangaroo courts as they did in this case. I have also seen it in cases of domestic violence. There is a special law to protect women from domestic violence, but police officers still trivialize the matter when wives complain at the police station and advise them to return to the home where they are victims of violence. In the case of the honor killing bill, first it should be passed and secondly, the state government should set up a monitoring committee consisting of people like Kausalya and Dhivya and other activists.”
Read: ‘I will continue to fight caste’: Kowsalya starts a new journey, opens salon