Perched on the edge of a highway, Nilakkottai in Dindigul district, is a picture postcard village. But, the neat row of tiled houses, clean mud roads and the comforting picture of quiet rural life belie caste turmoil. Just six months ago, this pastoral calm had been rudely shattered.
In March this year, elders gathered under the manthai' in the village centre. Twenty-two-year-old Dhanam and dalit youth Vinoth Kumar (27) were summoned for the hearing'. The village dominated by families belonging to the Thevar sect of piramalai kallar' was shocked that Dhanam, a nurse in a hospital in Chennai, had dared to fall in love with the dalit youth and worse even live with him, defying tradition and caste taboo.
Violent scenes were witnessed in the tiny village square, flanked by a huge water tank and a primary health centre. The young couple were beaten up by the villagers, who ordered Vinoth's family to leave the village and never to return. Dhanam's mother Mariammai was not spared too as villagers beat her up and even broke one of her arms for "supporting her daughter and bringing her up in such a fashion". Her father, A Muthusamy, joined the villagers in punishing his family.
On March 9, the village gathered outside at Jallipatti, on the village edge, in a small clearing beside the highway. A small group of elders then decided it would be the wisest thing "to remove the blot" on the village. Muthusamy was asked to "take a decision". According to the village panchayat ward councilor and Dhanam's uncle E Ayyappan (26), in the early hours of March 12, the girl was taken by her father to their garden across the highway. "Muthusamy kept a bottle of poison on the ground and told his daughter that either she should take it or he would consume it as he could not live down the shame. Dhanam drank it up," said Ayyappan.
Three family members then carried Dhanam's body back to the village, to a small patch of ground used by the villagers as a cremation ground. Truck tyres were placed on the body to speed up the process and her body was set on fire. Today, a burnt patch and some pieces of bones are what remain of a shocking death. "Though we have two police constables living in our village, the case was completely hushed up," said Ayyappan.
Nilakottai panchayat president, A Seeman is yet to get over the shock. "The issue was not brought to me. We didn't know what happened until after the incident. We only heard that the girl was forced to marry her relative. But she was with him for about five days and then ran away again with the dalit youth. She was tracked and brought back by the villagers and the next thing we knew, she was dead," he said. The Nilakottai police plead ignorance.