Investigators and prosecutors agree that they had never seen another caste-hate crime in which so many people conspired together so brazenly.
“My Amma threatened me repeatedly that she will kill me. She told me I was better off dead than married to him,” 20-year-old Kausalya Sankar told Tirupur Principal District and Sessions Judge Alamelu Natarajan.
Kausalya’s husband, a 22-year-old Dalit man named Sankar, was brutally hacked in broad daylight on March 13, 2016, the grievous wounds leaving him dead in a few hours. But Sankar wasn’t the only target. The three killers also attacked Kausalya with sickles, fracturing her head.
The attackers had a clear plan: kill Sankar, and if Kausalya resists, kill her too. However, despite the blows she received, Kausalya survived the brutality and became the prime witness in a caste-hate crime that shook Tamil Nadu. On Tuesday, 21 months after Sankar was killed, the court will pronounce its verdict on the ghastly murder.
Sankar, a Dalit man, and Kausalya, who hails from the socially dominant Thevar community (OBC), had been married for just eight months before that fateful March day. There had already been many attempts by her parents to separate the couple. But when none of their persuasion worked, a plot was hatched to kill Sankar.
“The plan was hatched by Kausalya’s father Chinnasamy, his wife Annalakshmi and maternal uncle Pandi Durai. An auto driver who overheard them has become an important witness in the case,” Special Public Prosecutor U Sankaranarayanan appointed by the TN government told TNM.
Kausalya’s father, a taxi driver by profession, had already kidnapped her once. However, when she escaped from their clutches, they offered Rs 10 lakh to Sankar to break off the marriage. But Sankar refused the money.
“They decided to kill her. Then came the next part, who will execute the killing? This is when Chinnasamy approached a distant relative, a man who already had a criminal background, Jagadeesan,” says Udumalaipettai Deputy Superintendent of Police Vivekanandan.
Jagadeesan, in turn, called in four daily wage laborers to execute the murder. They were his friends, and were already accused in other crimes, including murder.
Selvakumar, Manikandan, Michael and Kalai Tamilselvan were then introduced to Kausalya’s father, says the chargesheet.
One of the crucial pieces of evidence in the case is a sum of Rs 50,000 that Chinnasamy withdrew from his bank account, to pay the four men. A portion of this money was recovered from them when they were arrested. The name under which a hotel room was booked for them was also incriminating.
“Chinnasamy withdrew Rs 50,000 and gave it to these men. He also took a hotel room in Palani for them in how own name. We had enough evidence to show that he had booked the room for these men, and in the week they stayed there, they constantly tailed Kausalya and Sankar,” says the DSP.
March 13 was a Sunday, and the young couple had decided to go shopping in Udumalaipettai town, just a few kilometres from Sankar’s house. “The killers got a chance and they did not hesitate even once in executing the murder. But what is disturbing is the way they behaved after they hacked the couple. In the footage, one can clearly see that they were not fleeing, they got on their bikes leisurely and left,” says Sankaranarayanan.
The CCTV footage that clearly captured the murder and the forensic evidence that matched the faces of the men with their regular photographs is clinching evidence, the prosecution has argued.
“There are also two more important witnesses. An auto driver named Venugopal and a food vendor named Ramasamy had witnessed the attack. They are also clearly visible in the footage. They tried to intervene, but were immediately threatened off by the killers,” the Special Public Prosecutor adds.
Other forensic evidence from both Sankar and Kausalya’s clothes, the CCTV footage and eyewitness accounts are sufficient to prove the involvement of the three men who hacked the couple, the prosecution believes.
But can the involvement of the parents be proved beyond doubt? “Of course,” says Vivekanandan, “Chinnasamy never bothered to cover up his tracks. He had met the killers in the hotel room, he paid them money and they have threatened Sankar and his family many times. This wasn’t a crime that they wanted to hush up; they were trying to make a statement to society.”
But the most important witness in the case, both agree, is Kausalya herself. The young woman has been resolute in court, recounting the threats and what happened on that fateful day.
There is one other thing the prosecution and investigators agree on: they had never seen a caste-hate crime that so brazenly involved so many people in the conspiracy.