On June 21, filmmaker Ram Gopal Verma promptly took to Twitter to announce his upcoming film Murder “based on a true story”. The film is based on how Maruthi Rao murdered Pranay Kumar, a 24-year-old Dalit youth for marrying his daughter Amrutha Rao. Clearly a caste-based atrocity and a case of ‘honour killing’, Verma meanwhile chose to announce the film as “the saga of the DANGERS of a father LOVING a daughter too much”. Needless to say, this is just the tip of the iceberg of caste-based atrocities that our country continues to witness.
On Monday, June 22, the Madras High Court acquitted Chinnaswamy who was reported as the mastermind in the Sankar caste killing case. In 2016, in what was caught on CCTV camera, Sankar – a Dalit man was murdered in Udumalpet, Tamil Nadu in broad daylight, for marrying Gowsalya – a woman from Thevar caste. Last year, Gowsalya’s family including her father were convicted for Sankar’s murder and given the death sentence. The death sentence of five others were reduced to a life sentence of 25 years.
Even as all of the country was in a lockdown in April, The Frontline reported how Moorthy, a 56-year-old upper caste man, murdered M Sudhakar, a 24-year-old of the Oddar caste (classified under Most Backward Castes) for marrying his daughter. In another incident in 2018, an upper-caste man murdered his daughter Swathi as well as Nandhish, a 25-year-old Dalit youth for getting married and threw their bodies into a river in Krishnagiri district in Tamil Nadu. The same year in May, Kevin Joseph – a converted Christian in Kerala’s Kottayam district married Neenu Chacko despite facing strong opposition from the latter’s family. Days later, Joseph’s dead body was found in Kollam district. The district court ruled it a case of honour killing.
And yet, when the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) released the Crime in India Report for 2017 after a year’s delay in October 2019, data on honour killings and hate crimes, among others were left out for being “vague and unreliable”. Not only does this instill a sense of impunity in the perpetrators of caste-based crimes, it also covers up the reality of how honour killing is still is an issue. This under-reporting of the data on honour killings by the State could then impede the passing and enforcement of relevant and specific laws that condemn honour killings.
Meanwhile, Evidence, an NGO mobilising to provide protection to the human rights of Dalit and Tribal population in Puducherry and Tamil Nadu, reportedly states that there have been 195 recorded honour killing cases in Tamil Nadu alone.
To top the State’s unwillingness to reveal proper data, when a person in a place of influence such as Ram Gopal Verma ignorantly calls what was a caste-driven murder the “too much love of a father”, it shows how deeply entrenched caste discrimination is.
V. Spike Petersen in her book ‘Women, States and Nationalism: At Home In The Nation’ analyses how in a heterosexual narrative of nationalism or in this case, caste or cultural superiority, women’s movements and their bodies become markers of cultural and caste boundaries. Men are the gatekeepers who are supposed to keep these boundaries sacrosanct. In the Indian context, the term ‘honour killing’ itself posits the honour of a family in oppressive structures such as caste and gender hierarchy, thus, in a way, justifying their acts of violence as a response to a ‘disruption of honour.’
This empathy for upper-caste extremists who cannot bear to see their caste purity being violated reflects in Ram Gopal Verma’s hot take. Among his series of tweets justifying the film, one is: “MURDER film meanders between 3 moral dilemmas 1.on limit of a father’s control over his child 2.should a daughter be ignored even if she’s presumably ignorant about what’s good for her? 3.Can it be justified to take someone’s life in order to better someone else’s life?“
The man’s moral dilemmas is confined to three (mostly problematic) takes and not what is actually staring into everyone’s faces ever since the news of Maruthi Rao murdering Pranay broke: CASTE-DRIVEN HATE CRIME. Allow me to also rephrase a couple of his dilemmas in a politically correct manner: Why should anybody wield “control” over an adult unless the former thinks the latter is their property? Why should it be assumed that someone by the virtue of their age and gender is ignorant about what is good for them?
In addition to separating it from the context of caste-driven crime, the narrative “a father’s too much love” also asserts on how violence within the domestic sphere is often normalised as an act of or despite affection. Similar to what a Kabir Singh slapping his girlfriend or even the yet to be criminalised marital rape (because violence within conjugality magically becomes an act of love) indicates.
The ambiguity in the State’s records of honour killings and hate crimes, the lack of proper laws and the general apathy of the larger (and mostly privileged) population towards caste oppression are a combined force bolstering the continued prevalence of caste-driven crimes and honour killings, which is just another way the patriarchal structures polices a woman’s choice in the name of familial love.