On February 10, a registered NGO Adhalinal Kaadhal Seiveer (AKS) run shelter home for inter-caste couples was inaugurated by the state’s Social Welfare Department. AKS is an NGO started in 2017 by four lawyers and a retired police inspector. Advocate Se Gunasekar, advocate Porkodi, advocate Ilamathi, advocate Angaiyar Kanni and retired police head constable Pitchai Sudar from different corners of Tamil Nadu came together to work for this noble cause. All of these five individuals are active Periyarists. Having had inter-caste marriages themselves, they have helped several similar couples to start life afresh over years. Similar thoughts, ideologies and beliefs brought them together, which culminated in the founding of AKS. Periyar, known as “father of modern Tamil Nadu”, was a social activist who fought against caste prevalence and women oppression. Individuals following his ideology are referred to as Periyarists.
Se Gunasekar, an active Periyarist and managing trustee of AKS conducted his own arranged intercaste marriage. He shares his journey with us:
I was born in 1972 in a village between Mettur Dam and Erode. As I was growing up I read a lot about Periyar and his ideology. In 1994, I completed M.Com and with that, I also become an active Periyarist. I decided that I would only marry a girl who is not from my community or caste. The fact that I was already working, was independent and that my family supported my line of thought, I did not have to struggle much.
This decision of mine took me to Periyar Thidal, in Chennai. I then went to SOS village, an international orphanage. There I met the authorities and told them about my ideology and purpose. They then introduced me to Rajeshwari, the woman who then went on to become my wife. We got to know each other and got married in 1997. This is how I arranged my own marriage. We had a son in 2002. He is now in 11th standard and aspires to be a lawyer like me.
A turning point in my life came in 2003, when a Vanniyar girl, D Kannagi and Dalit boy, S Murugesan were murdered by family members in Cuddalore district. They got married, when in college. They eloped but were tracked by parents and poisoned. This incident really shook me up. I designed a website tnicm.org. TNICM stands for Tamil Nadu Intercaste Marriage. Also, since 2008, almost every weekend of mine has been spent travelling to different districts in the state. I meet lawyers and such couples. My networking has helped me connect to people who can help, if there is any intercaste couple wanting to marry but facing resistance. The phone numbers of all these lawyers and authorities have been mentioned on my website and any couples in distress can contact them with respect to the place they hail from, for quick assistance. I have personally conducted marriages of over 150 such couples and counselled them.
I have also received threats for the work I am doing, but I believe that the situation with respect to intercaste marriage in Tamil Nadu is much better. I roam around freely in my Omni Van which has teachings of Periyar painted on it, also mentioning my phone number. I am viewed with curiosity and receive an occasional smile from the passerbys. I believe that if anything of this sort I tried in northern states like Haryana or Uttar Pradesh, I would have been torched along with my van. However, I still believe that Tamil Nadu is the land of Periyar and it is rather shameful that we still have to think twice about marrying someone from other caste or community.