Chennai: An intercaste love story ends in cold-blooded ‘caste killing’

Praveen was murdered by his brother-in-law and four other men.

WrittenBy:Nidharshana Raju
Date:
Sharmila clings on to the casket with her husband Praveen's mortal remains.

Nineteen-year-old Sharmila from Chennai lost her husband Praveen to a caste killing on February 24. The 22-year-old man belonging to the Paraiyar caste, classified as Scheduled Caste, was murdered by Sharmila’s elder brother Dinesh (24) and four other men, most of them caste Hindus, in the Pallikaranai locality. 

At the funeral the next day, Sharmila was spotted in Praveen’s shirt over her clothes, clinging to the freezer box that held Praveen’s mortal remains. As the funeral procession began, an inconsolable Sharmila was heard saying, “He said he wouldn’t ever leave me alone. Now, he is gone.” Since that day, she has had little food or water and has been on IV fluid support at a local hospital.

Four of the murder accused, including Dinesh, belong to the Yadava community, classified as OBC, while one is a Christian of the Pariyar caste. The police arrested the accused and charged them under IPC Section 302 (murder) and under Section 3(2) (v) of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. 

However, the victim’s family has accused the police of negligence, saying the crime could have been prevented.

While caste killings are predominantly reported in southern Tamil Nadu, Praveen’s murder — arguably one of the first cases of caste killings in Chennai in recent times, as per Veni, an activist with Theendamai Ozhippu Munnani [Eradication of Untouchability front] — has shaken the local residents.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau, Chennai city has not recorded any murder or atrocity committed against a Scheduled Caste person between 2017 and 2019, or in 2022. Records for the years before 2017 and the records for 2020, 2021, and 2023 are not available on the NCRB website.

“Twenty years ago, two people – one person belonging to the Paraiyar caste and another from the Yadava caste – attempted to get married in Pallikaranai. But their attempts remained unsuccessful because their families managed to separate them. After that, as far as I know, Praveen and Sharmila are the first ones from those two communities to have gotten married in this vicinity,” a resident who works alongside caste annihilation groups told The News Minute.

Praveen and his family have been living around the Ambedkar statue near the Pallikaranai police booth, an area where a majority of residents belong to SC communities. Meanwhile, Sharmila’s family lives two kilometres away, where the Yadava community forms a majority. 

Praveen’s mother Chithra said, “No one has seen or heard of our youth befriending people or interacting with people based on their caste in Pallikaranai. But my son’s marriage triggered caste hatred and he was killed. This has shocked us.” 

Chronology of events

Speaking to The News Minute, Sharmila said her parents found out about her relationship with Praveen last year and disapproved of it. “After they came to know, they started to look for bridegrooms to marry me off.”

On October 17 last year, under the pretext of locking her house’s main gate, Sharmila left her house and eloped with Praveen. The two of them were in hiding for two nights in Mahindra City where Praveen’s aunt lives, and two days later had a registered marriage. In the meantime, Sharmila’s parents filed a missing complaint with the Pallikaranai police.

On October 20, the couple came to the Pallikaranai police station and produced their marriage certificate. The officer investigating the case, assistant commissioner Christin Jayasil told The News Minute, “We had called the girl’s family and they submitted in writing that henceforth they will have no relationship with their daughter, by acknowledging that she had eloped and married as per her wish.”

But Sharmila said that she was threatened by her elder brother Naresh, 25, at the police station. “He had quietly threatened me at the police station. Earlier that week, when we were hiding in Mahindra City, Naresh and my father Durai Kumar had gone to Praveen’s family and threatened to kill us. After receiving the threat at the police station itself, I feared for our lives. So, I told one of the police officers that I wish to submit a written complaint. But the police refused to accept it. They said that the family’s written acknowledgement was sufficient,” she alleged. The Pallikaranai police, however, denied this allegation.

On February 27, when the National Commission for Scheduled Castes regional director Ravivarman visited the family, Sharmila levelled these allegations again. 

Ravivarman said, “I will ask the IO to look into this matter and if found guilty, the names of both the father and the other brother will be included in the FIR.” He also announced that a compensation of Rs 12 lakh will be given to the family. 

“You should have been more cautious. Now see, what has happened.” Ravivarman told Praveen’s family outside their house. He went on to explain how the family shouldn’t have permitted the couple to come back to Pallikaranai and insisted that they remain in hiding.

Praveen’s mother said, “Sir, for the first two months they were in hiding. They were first in Mahindra City and then in Nedungundram at our relative’s house. It was his friends who asked him why he must ‘hide like a girl’. It was one of those friends — Sriram — who called him that night to come to the spot, and was part of the group that killed him. It was an elaborate plan to bring him back and then to kill him.”

A possible case of caste and vengeance

The five men who committed the murder were identified by the police as Sriram (18), Vishnu (23), Dinesh (24), Jothi Lingam (25), and Stephen Kumar (24). 

IO Christin Jayasil said that as per initial investigation, some perpetrators could have had an additional motive. “Apart from the fact that most of them belong to the same caste, two of the accused, Vishnu and Stephen, were friends with a person who was killed in Medavakkam allegedly by Praveen and his gang,” said Jayasil, referring to a 2022 murder case.

Praveen was named as one of the accused in that case and was booked under the IPC section 302. He was granted bail within a few months, the police said.

The IO further said that as per Dinesh’s statement, he wasn’t carrying any weapons. “He claims that he just went with these men and had nothing to do with the murder but we don’t have any corroborative evidence, at least not yet. We are investigating this from all angles,” Jayasil remarked. 

‘Not caste killing’

When The News Minute met Sharmila’s family, they claimed it was not a case of “caste killing” and denied that they had threatened the couple. 

Sharmila’s father, Durai Kumar (46), who works in the construction business, said, “Both my wife and I were born and brought up in Chennai. We are not casteist and nor are our children. Dinesh has never been and is not against his sister for marrying a man from another caste. I’m certain of that because he himself is in a relationship with a girl from that caste and wants to marry her. He informed us of his relationship recently and we have accepted it. We disapproved of Sharmila’s relationship with Praveen only because he is a history sheeter.”

The family said that Dinesh was a Tamil Nadu Public Service Commission aspirant and was studying while working in a private company.

Sarala, Sharmila’s mother, said Dinesh had called her crying around 9.30 pm on February 24. “He told me that he had gone somewhere with some men after finishing work at his office and that something bad had happened. He immediately cut the call. When I called back, his phone was switched off. We don’t know why he was there with any of those men because he has never mentioned any of their names, except for Jothi. Jothi was his friend.” 

However, Praveen’s family alleged that these are false claims. Speaking to The News Minute, the family said Dinesh had immense hatred towards Praveen and both Durai Kumar and Naresh played an equal part in this. 

Sharmila alleged that Naresh has been following her to college and that Praveen had previously complained that her father followed him regularly too. She said “My father also is the deputy organising secretary at DMK’s construction wing in Sholinganallur. I don’t know if someone powerful is supporting them.”

This report was republished from The News Minute as part of The News Minute-Newslaundry alliance. Read about our partnership here and become a TNM subscriber here.

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