In an incident of brutal violence, eight members of a family were allegedly tied to trees, stripped and assaulted in Dharmapuri district, by a group of men. This comes a month after a man belonging to the victims’ family – who belong to the Navithar caste – eloped with a woman from the Vanniyar caste. The assailants allegedly belong to the Vanniyar community. While both Vanniyar and Navithar are classified as Most Backward Caste in Tamil Nadu, in Dharmapuri, Vanniyar are numerically dominant. The police have however completely denied the incident.
Priya* and Vivek* both belonged to the Pennagaram Taluk in Dharmapuri, and according to a source close to Vivek’s family, the two of them have been in a relationship for eight years. On June 21, Priya had left her residence, allegedly under the pretense of filing an application at the Government Arts College in Dharmapuri. She however, did not return, prompting her family to file a ‘Missing' complaint at the Adiyamankottai police station. However, with Vivek missing from home as well, his family immediately suspected that the couple had eloped.
While Vivek's family resided in Pikkampatti village, Priya's family belongs to Thalappalam. Between the two villages, there are only seven Navithar families, compared to over 100 Vanniyar families. Fearing backlash from the majority community, Vivek's family fled from the village to hide in a different state.
"They had been hiding for over a month, when the woman's family found them," says a source close to Vivek's family. "They met and offered to take them back to Dharmapuri to hold talks on the matter. Five of them were taken in a car, while others left by bus. The two groups went to Dharmapuri on Thursday," says the source.
When Vivek's family members, including his father, mother, uncle, aunts, grandfather, elder brother, and brother-in-law, arrived at Thalappalam village, it became exceedingly clear that they were not brought in for talks. "They were locked in a room and beaten up all of Thursday night," says the person close to the family, "The next morning they were taken to some woods near the village, tied to trees and assaulted again. The women were made to remove their sarees and stand in their blouse and in-skirts, and they were beaten black and blue.
The family members were allegedly hit with wooden sticks on their head, chest, stomach and thighs. The women, especially, were brutally attacked. Later that day, they were all let go, but with the warning that they will be picked up again. They returned to the city they were hiding in for treatment.
Govidarasu, a member of the Vanniyar community who belongs to Thalappalam village, says he heard about the incident and came running, but did not witness the brutality. "I run a shop 15 kilometres from the spot of the attack. As soon people informed me of the commotion, I went running to check and try to stop them," he says, "But by the time I got there, I only saw around 50 villagers gathered there. The family had been whisked away. The villagers told me about the attack, but I know that if they were asked by the police, they will never accuse men from their community," he adds.
"Vivek's mother has wounds on her thighs and chest while his aunt is still in the hospital," says the source, "She has been hit on her head and an MRI scan has been taken but she is still in pain. Her stomach is also swollen. The local police have filed a complaint after being informed by authorities at the government hospital," adds the insider.
Despite the horrific attack however, the family is not ready to approach the police in Dharmapuri. They fear that it could lead to further violence. Both families meanwhile are unaware of where Vivek and Priya are.
"Even now, Priya's family has said that if the couple returns, they will kill Vivek," says the source close to Vivek's family.
Meanwhile messages on the brutality have been widely circulated on Whatsapp, along with photographs of the injuries. But the police are denying any such episode. Dharmapuri Superintendent of Police, P Rajan tells TNM that this is a case of 'fake news'. "No such thing has happened. Some jobless people are trying to spread fake news," he tells TNM, "We already know where the man's family currently is. We are now looking for the couple. Once we find and produce them in court, our work is over.”
Papparapatti station inspector Durairaj, under whose jurisdiction the crime allegedly took place, tells TNM that there were no complaints filed regarding this matter. He further added that regular patrolling was underway in the village.
*names change to protect identity