Sunday, September 19, 2010

honour suicides

'honour suicides'


CHENNAI: In Sivaganga district of south Tamil Nadu, an agrarian pocket made famous by its high-profile MP and home minister P Chidambaram, 39 women committed suicide from January 2008 to June 2010. In southern Tamil Nadu's Theni district, which holds Andipatti from where AIADMK leader Jayalalithaa contests for the assembly elections, 82 suicides by women were recorded by the police during the same period. In Virudhunagar district, 90 suicides were recorded and in Thoothukudi, 136.

The statistics may appear innocuous, though worrying, as all these districts are caste-sensitive. Activists in the region are waking up to a new possibility — that these suicides could well be driven by 'caste honour'. The figures are replies to RTI queries to district authorities by a Madurai-based NGO, Evidence.

''We are beginning to believe that many of these suicides are actually instigated and could even be murders, but registered by the police under IPC as suicides,'' says A Kathir of Evidence, an NGO campaigning for the cause of dalits. ''In the last three months alone, there have been six cases of honour killings in Tamil Nadu,'' Kathir says, pointing out that in almost all the cases, the alleged murders were a fallout of caste hatred. ''And in five of the six cases, it is the women who were either murdered or driven to suicide.''

As the Centre mulls an amendment to the Indian Evidence Act in the wake of a recent rash of 'honour' killings in the north, murders and instigated suicides to uphold ''honour'' continue in Tamil Nadu's caste-sensitive southern districts. The amendment seeks to put the onus on the caste councils to prove their innocence and make them equally culpable.

According to CPM state secretariat member P Sampath, half-hearted attempts by successive state governments to bridge the inter-caste divide — the state-sponsored social justice tea parties, 'samathuvapurams' (egalitarian colonies) and cash incentives for inter-caste marriages — are mere cosmetic efforts. There's a clear lack of political will and blatant attempts to nurture caste groups and stoke hatred.

''The government is neither keen on legislation nor do they have a proper social outlook. They see caste-related issues as a law and order problem,'' says Sampath.

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