By Shikha Sreenivas
Amidst the noise of the jallikattu protests which were flooding the headlines almost everyday, the rape and murder of a 17-year-old Dalit girl in Sirukadambur, in the district of Ariyalur, went unheard. Allegedly, on 29th December, 2016, her estranged boyfriend and three of his friends raped and murdered her, and then they threw her body into a well. The body was recovered two weeks later, of 14th January.
The prime accused Manikandan, and his friends — Thirumurgan, Manivannan and Vetrichelvan — were arrested on 15th January. They have confessed to the crime, and are remanded to judicial custody. This is the story as we understand it today. The victim and Manikandan had been in a relationship for a year, They fought when she became pregnant. She wanted them to get married and Manikandan insisted they abort the child. When she refused, he and his friends raped her, tied her hands and threw her into a well.
Manikandan is of the ‘upper’ caste Vanniyar community, and the union secretary of Hindu Munnani. The teenaged victim was working as a casual labourer. “[Manikandan has] close links to the secretary of Hindu Munnani, Raj Sekhar, [who] is known for rowdyism,” said the sub-inspector of the Special Branch, Ariyalur to the media.
The family also blames the police, as Deccan Chronicle reports. They had registered a complaint that the victim had been kidnapped on 30th December, 2016 but the police registered it as a missing persons case. A family member of the victim said, “We received a call from a person called Tamilarasan stating the the girl is with him. Rather than paying heed to it, the police officials abused us saying, ‘You do not know how to raise a girl’.” The family member told DC, “If the enquiry had progressed at the right time, she would have been still alive.”
The direction of District Collector, Saravanavel Raja said the two prime accused were booked under the Goonda’s act — a preventive detention under which they will be imprisoned for a year. He told DC that the four were slapped with sections of SC and ST (prevention of atrocities) Act, 1989, POCSO Act, rape and murder.”
Kadir, executive director of the Madurai-based NGO Evidence, who has offered legal support to the family told DC, “Discrimination need not be direct. The police had treated the family in an abusive manner, which is punishable under section 4 of the SC/ST Act. We have requested a special advocate selected by the NGO to be public prosecutor as the accused has strong political ties.”
The influence of Manikandan’s political ties may have made the case more difficult but putting all the blame on right-wing forces misses the angle of caste discrimination. Quoting a fact-finding report shared Intellectual Circle for Dalit Actions (ICDA) The Hindu says that projecting the incident as an issue with right-wing parties is “convenient” because it suppresses the caste angle.
The infamous 2012 Dharmapuri violence, for instance, was also unleashed when Vanniyars burnt 200 Dalit homes to avenge the perceived insult of the marriage of a Vanniyar woman and a Dalit man.