New Delhi: Chennai police on Saturday, November 26, arrested Dalit PhD scholar Guruswamy and kept him in custody for over 24 hours on a ‘missing person’ complaint and theft charges filed by Govindhan, his father-in-law.
On October 13, Guruswamy married 23-year-old Sudoroli, who belongs to the Reddiar caste, categorized as a backward class community. Sudoroli’s father opposed the match due to the fact that Guruswamy belonged to the Dalit community.
According to a report in Minute newsthe couple has been facing harassment ever since Sudoroli told her parents that she was in a relationship.
But contrary to her father’s allegations, Sudoroli claimed that she married Guruswamy of her own free will.
Background of the case
In a petition submitted to a magistrate’s court in Pollachi, Tamil Nadu, Sudoroli described how she and Guruswamy fell in love more than a year ago at the University of Madras, when she was pursuing her master’s degree in English literature and Guruswamy was completing his Ph.D.
She noted that ever since they found out about Guruswamy, her parents tried to keep her under “house arrest”. “I was in deep mental stress. They pressured me to marry another person, violating my right to choose,” she wrote.
Sudoroli, however, managed to leave her house on October 13 and went with Guruswamy to Periyar Thidal in Chennai, where they decided to suyamariyathai (‘self-respect’) marriage.
This method of marriage is mentioned in the Hindu Marriage Act as amended in 1967 and removed the requirement for a Brahmin priest to be present during the marriage ceremony. Instead, these weddings only require a simple exchange of vows.
Tamil Nadu is the only state in the country where such unions can take place.
Subsequently, the couple registered their marriage under the Tamil Nadu Marriage Registration Act and obtained a certificate to that effect on October 18. They settled in Pollachi to avoid the attention of Sudoroli’s family.
After their wedding, Sudoroli detailed in her petition, Govindhan filed a complaint with the Rajamangalam police claiming his daughter was missing and accusing the couple of stealing diamond jewelery worth over Rs 11 lakh, 64 sovereigns (512 gm ) of gold and 4 lakhs in cash – a claim denied by Sudoroli.
After registering the FIR, Sudoroli submitted written representations to the Coimbatore Superintendent of Police (SP), Rajamangalam Police Station Inspector and the aforementioned petition to the Pollachi court to prove that she was an adult and was legally married. at your own will.
She further wrote that the couple sought protection at the Pollachi All Women’s Police Station (AWPS) on October 20 as they feared for their lives. Further, in her letter to the Coimbatore SP, Sudoroli wrote that her parents, accompanied by the Rajamangalam police, arrived at AWPS two days later and insulted her.
Sudha Gandhi, the couple’s lawyer, said Minute news that they spent the weeks leading up to November 26, when Guruswamy was arrested, filing paperwork and seeking help.
Earlier this week, Guruswamy had to travel to Chennai for work, where he was arrested by three plainclothes policemen at his home in Perambur.
It was only after agitation by anti-caste activists like Kowsalya, vice-president of Thamizham Manavurimai Sangam, an organization that helps inter-caste couples, that Guruswamy was released.
The need for legislation
Kowsalya herself was a victim of violence from her own family after she decided to marry outside her caste. In March 2016, her husband Shankar was killed in broad daylight and she was attacked, in which she was injured but survived.
Informed by her own past, Kowsalya now provides support to persecuted inter-caste couples and said Minute news that a bill to prevent such honor killings must be passed if vulnerable couples are to be protected.
Earlier this year, the Dalit Human Rights Defender Network had sent a 17-page draft lawentitled ‘The Freedom of Marriage and Association and Prohibition of Crimes in the Name of Honor Bill, 2022’, for the consideration of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin.
The bill, which is expected to apply nationwide, sets out penalties for individuals found guilty of committing crimes in the name of “honour”. This applies not only to caste in this context, but also to issues of religion, gender and sexual orientation, age and more.
The draft also established procedures for compensation and rehabilitation of victims of such violence and provisions for the protection of such couples. It also defined different types of victimization besides murder, such as social and economic boycotts and persecution, and sought to cover not only marriages but also other relationships.
“If the law was passed, when the police do something like this, they would use it to fight the couple,” Minute news quoted by Kowsaly. The activist said it took more than 40 individuals to fight the case of Guruswami and Sudoroli, and asked whether many other couples facing similar persecution had access to a similar network of activists.
“But if that law existed, each of them could fight it for themselves,” she said.
Gandhi, the couple’s lawyer, echoed Kowsalya’s sentiments and argued that due process is often overruled by the police in such cases because there is no legislation on the matter. In addition to passing the bill, she also pushed for the creation of an activist oversight committee to enforce the legislation.