Raja, a Dalit Christian youth who was the victim of a violent assault, died by suicide after being threatened allegedly by Vanniyar caste men, who also lodged a case of bike theft against him.
Dalit residents of Surapattu in Villupuram have refused to receive the body of Raja Marianathan, a 19-year-old Dalit Christian youth who took his own life on December 23 after he and his family members allegedly received death threats from men belonging to the Vanniyar caste. The Vanniyar men, who physically assaulted him, also foisted a false case of bike theft on him, according to the relatives. Raja’s friends and relatives have been protesting outside Mundiyampakkam government hospital demanding the arrest of the Vanniyar men. They are also demanding payment of compensation to Raja’s family.
Raja, a Dalit Christian youth from the Pariah community, died by suicide at his house at 7 pm on December 23. Raja lived in Surapattu, a small village in Villupuram, located on Puducherry-Sengam road. While Dalits live on the left side of the road, the Vanniyars live on the right side. According to residents, on December 21 night Raja and his friends went for dinner at an eatery located in the residential area of Vanniyars. He saw an elderly man belonging to the Vanniyar community knock on a door to get some water while he was returning home. When Raja saw this, he tried to help the elderly man.
“He was trying to fetch some water for that old man. But Moorthy, the son-in-law of the elder man, answered the door and used casteist slurs against Raja when he saw him at the doorstep and asked how a Pariah man dared to come to his house and knock on the door?” alleges Marianathan, Raja’s father. Moorthy and his friends identified as Mohan and Suresh, also from the Vanniyar community, allegedly under the influence of alcohol engaged in a scuffle with Raja and attacked him. Sebastian and Vinoth, friends of Raja, rescued him from the attackers and admitted him to the Mundiyampakkam government hospital. Raja had eight stitches on his face and torso.
According to relatives, the Vanniyar men lodged a false case of bike theft on Raja and friends at Kedar police station to counter registration of a case against Moorthy and others over the assault. Dalit human rights activist ‘Evidence’ Kathir told TNM that the police registered a case against Vanniyar men at the hospital and also questioned Vinoth and Sebastian about the bike theft case while Raja was under treatment. He alleged that the police assaulted them.
“When Marianathan visited the police station with Raja on December 22 to explain that he and his friends were not involved in bike theft, police asked the father-son duo to enter into a ‘compromise’ with Vanniyars. However, they refused to do so and didn’t want to withdraw the case against Vanniyer men,” says Kathir. According to him, Marianathan asked why he should agree for a compromise and settle the case when his son was the victim, says Kathir who visited Surapattu on December 24 to gather details regarding the case from Raja’s family members.
Later on the same day, the Vanniyar men tried to initiate a compromise talk with Raja’s family members in their village. After Raja and Marianathan refused the offer, a Vanniyar man named Venkatesh along with 40 members of his caste allegedly threatened Raja that they would kill him and his family members. “The Vanniyar men told him that their community had 1,000 families in Surappattu while the Dalit colony had only 40 houses and threatened to set fire to the colony,” says the First Information Report, quoting the complainant.
Kathir says Raja’s life could have been saved if the police acted appropriately and thoroughly inquired about the assault on Raja. “Raja was a Dalit Christian and now they are confused regarding the case as sections of SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act were added erroneously,” says Kathir. Raja’s father is Dalit Christian whereas his mother is Dalit Hindu from Pariah community. Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims have been excluded from the caste-based reservation in India.
According to Kathir, police registered the FIR with the information provided by a 12th standard student who witnessed the assault on Raja on December 21. In the FIR, police says Raja was waylaid by Vanniyar men who assaulted him with a rod but it fails to mention the claim that the assault happened when Raja tried to help an elderly man from the Vanniyar community. TNM reached out to the investigating officers regarding the discrepancies but they were tightlipped regarding the case.
Police have booked a case against Vanniar men under different sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) – 147 (rioting), 148 (Rioting, armed with deadly weapons), 341 (wrongful restraint), 294 (b) (singing or uttering obscene words or songs), 324 (voluntarily causing hurt by dangerous weapons), 506 (2) (criminal intimidation) and 306 (abetment of suicide). Sections under Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 – 3(1)(r), which deals with intentional insult or intimidation with intent to humiliate and 3(1)(s), relating to abuse using caste name) have also been incorporated. Since converted Christians from Dalit communities are not eligible for special protection under this Act and reservations under various forums, police are likely to alter the sections, according to activists.
“Dalit Christians are presently categorised as Backward Class in Tamil Nadu. But it is against our Constitution. The FIR says Raja was insulted with casteist slurs then why is it not considered a caste crime? If this does not come under the purview of SC/ST (Prevention of atrocities) Act, the government should provide monetary relief to the family members of Raja on humanitarian grounds,” says Kathir.
If you are aware of anyone facing mental health issues or feeling suicidal, please provide help. Here are some helpline numbers of suicide prevention organisations that can offer emotional support to individuals and families.
State health department’s suicide helpline: 104
Sneha Suicide Prevention Centre – 044-24640050 (listed as the sole suicide prevention helpline in Tamil Nadu)
Life Suicide Prevention: 78930 78930
Roshni: 9166202000, 9127848584
Sahai (24-hour): 080 65000111, 080 65000222
Maithri: 0484 2540530
Chaithram: 0484 2361161
Both are 24-hour helpline numbers.
State government’s suicide prevention (tollfree): 104
Roshni: 040 66202000, 6620200
SEVA: 09441778290, 040 27504682 (between 9 am and 7 pm)
Aasara offers support to individuals and families during an emotional crisis, for those dealing with mental health issues and suicidal ideation, and to those undergoing trauma after the suicide of a loved one.
24×7 Helpline: 9820466726