Trigger warning: Graphic violence, Abuse
On 13th March 2016, Gowsalya and Shankar were out shopping for the latter’s college annual day. The young couple had struggled immensely to get married across the borders of caste and its gatekeepers. They had finally been able to spend 8 months together as husband and wife. They were happy.
On 13th March 2016, five armed men hacked Shankar to death in broad daylight and gravely injured Gowsalya. Shankar was 21 and Gowsalya was 19. The reason? Shankar was a Dalit man and Gowsalya belonged to a socially dominant caste.
It has been almost three years since the tragic incident. Despite undergoing severe physical and emotional trauma, Gowsalya has braved through. She went on to become an anti-caste crusader and is currently a clerk at the Cantonment Board. In memory of Shankar, Gowsalya also runs a foundation which provides underprivileged children with education – called Shankar Social Justice Trust.
Gowsalya also runs a foundation which provides underprivileged children with education – called Shankar Social Justice Trust.
The time around last year, she testified in court against her father for the murder of Shankar. The case resulted in 6 people receiving the death penalty, her father being one of them. Gowsalya expressed regret over her mother not receiving any punishment as it was clear she was complicit in the crime as well.
Gowsalya’s Wedding To Sakthi
On 9th December, Gowsalya got married to Sakthi, a parai (South Indian drum) musician. He also runs an organisation called Nimirvu Kalaiyagam, which aims to bring parai music to the forefront of mainstream music.
Their wedding took place in Thanthai Periyar Dravidar Kazhagam, an apt venue considering theirs was a ‘self-respect’ marriage ceremony – an idea that was pioneered by the rationalist leader Periyar. It was attended by Evidence Kathir, Kolathur Mani, VCK Vanniyarasu, and Ku. Ramakritinan.
The idea behind a self-respect marriage is to shatter the Brahmanist patriarchal hegemony by simplifying the process of marriage, which is done by rendering all caste-based, anti-feminist rituals defunct. What you’re essentially left with once you strip a marriage ceremony of all such customs is just four basic requirements: the absence of a Brahmin officiator, a declaration of willingness to marry the person in question, a symbolic exchange of accessories (typically garlands or rings), and the presence of loved ones.
Both dressed in matching black shirts and jeans, Gowsalya and Sakthi read out their vows to each other and promised to work towards an ‘equal, respect-filled marriage’. This was followed by the performance of a parai recital by the newlyweds.
The Slut-Shaming of Gowsalya
A wedding that symbolically rejected two of the most toxic power structures in India and signified a new, happy beginning for Gowsalya, who has been through several harrowing experiences in the last few years, should have brought only joy to the public.
There was indeed a substantial amount of positive, congratulatory responses – but that doesn’t negate the countless hate comments under every video of their wedding.
People (read: men) are angry that Gowsalya, who claimed to have loved Shankar, has married another man now. They believe having had ‘true love’ for someone means you can never fall in love again, and how, by that logic, Gowsalya never loved Shankar and caused his death unnecessarily. The idea that you can fall in love only once, and that developing a romantic interest in someone else invalidates all the feelings you’ve ever had for other people, is moronic by itself. But what is truly abhorrent is that people are willing to conveniently avoid the truth that Shankar was killed by casteism and hatred, not love.
Another reason people attacked Gowsalya is because they feel entitled to have her fit into this mould of the perfect widow. Had she continued to live with Shankar’s family, made the Trust in his name the primary focus of her life, given up on all worldly pleasures and never so far as considered being with another man – she would’ve been lauded. They essentially want her to dedicate her life to Shankar’s legacy. What they fail to understand is that that’s exactly what she’s doing. Marrying another man does not change that.
The User Manual for Being a Woman
This practice of tying a woman’s worth to her relationships with the men in her life is virulent, and frankly, disgusting. Gowsalya has done several admirable things and continues to do them. It’s unfair, nay, cruel, to discredit all of that just because she exercised her autonomy to love again. How many men can you name who have ever been shamed for remarrying after the death of someone they claimed to have loved? How many men can you name whose value has ever been determined by the women in their lives?
But what is truly abhorrent is that people are willing to conveniently avoid the truth that Shankar was killed by casteism and hatred, not love.
Women shouldn’t have to fit society’s idea of the ‘good woman’ for them to be respected. Their right to be respected is inherent. The ‘good woman’ construct is a gaslight tactic that exists solely to limit their agency. This imposition of a user manual on how to be a woman and punishment for even the slightest deviation from it, needs to stop.
No further elaboration is necessary as to how expecting a 21-year-old woman to live a life of celibacy because her ex-husband got brutally murdered, is plain stupid and comes from a place of severe misogyny. Gowsalya is one of the victims here – and if there’s one thing you don’t ask of victims, it is to pay for the crime done unto them.
Featured Image Source: She The People