In 2016, in a horrific case of caste honor killing and caste-based violence, Shankar, a Dalit man, and his wife Kausalya, who belonged to the Thevar community, were attacked in broad daylight in Udumalpet town. in Tiruppur district of Tamil Nadu.
While Shankar died instantly, Kausalya survived with severe injuries. The CCTV footage of the horrific incident, which later went viral, will reveal a shocking case of honor killing initiated by Kausalya’s family and carried out by hired killers.
Shankar and Kausalya met in college, fell in love, and married against her family’s wishes.
And, despite a landmark judgment in 2017 that sentenced his father, along with five others to death, justice continued to be denied him when the Madras High Court, in 2020 overturned the Sessions court’s verdict and acquitted the his father and two others.
Kausalya’s fight is far from over. He is a fierce activist, raising his voice against caste-based violence and honor killings. She also started a foundation in her husband’s name that works to uplift children from marginalized communities.
Now, an ardent follower of the teachings of BR Ambedkar and Periyar, he has also learned to play the parai, and married Sakthi, a parai artist in a ceremony of self-respect.
Sakthi is also an activist and vocal against caste atrocities. “At one point, he was fired, but the decision was later reversed. I resigned from my job because I realized that my duty is to the society,” said Kausalya.
The beauty business
Kausalya recently left her government job to become an entrepreneur. She opened a beauty salon, Zha, in Vellalur, Coimbatore, which was inaugurated by actor Parvathy Thiruvothu a month ago.
“My government job does not allow me to be a full-time activist or engage in any form of social work. My main fight is against honor killings, and I have to get permission every moment when I had to talk to the media. It was difficult. Some of my friends suggested that I enter the beauty business because I always liked cosmetology,” she said HerStory.
After a “beautician’s course”, Kausalya took out a bank loan, pledged her jewelry, and borrowed money from a friend to get Zha started.
The salon, he said will be a “family friendly with no separate service for women, men, and children”.
“We provide all beauty services, more than haircuts and styling. We also offer high quality beauty products,” he said.
Apart from donating some of the business profits to social causes, Kausalya wants to encourage other survivors to start their own businesses.
“We are ready to offer franchisees in our salon, the necessary training, and all the help needed so that they can stand on their own feet, and start a new life,” he said.
Kausalya’s fight against honor killing continues. He said it is encouraging that there is more awareness and conversations happening, but there is a way to go.
“It all comes down to the equality of the sexes. Parents must treat boys and girls equally from the time they are young. For this, parents must first understand how equality drives development in society,” he said.
Kausalya uses every available forum and platform to talk about honor killings, and believes that such cases require sensitivity at all levels, even the police.
He also demanded a law against honor killing in Tamil Nadu. “While there is an action in Rajasthan against this heinous crime, I hope the DMK government will implement one in the state as well,” he said.
Despite many challenges in his path, his fight is relentless. The Shankar Social Justice Trust helps victims of caste violence, and has saved many women from meeting a similar fate. This gives them safe places to stay when they are opposed for marrying out of caste.
“My friends – followers of Periyar, Ambedkar, and Marx – are my family. They continue to support me every step of the way. We are not related by blood – but by reason – to do good for the people,” said Kausalya.