In 2016, in a horrific case of honor killing and caste-based violence, Shankar, a caste Dalit, and his wife Kausalya, who belong to the Thevar community, were attacked in broad daylight in Udumalpet town in Tamil Nadu’s Tiruppur district.
While Shankar died on the spot, Kausalya survived with severe injuries. CCTV footage of the gruesome incident, which later went viral, will show a shocking case of honor killing instigated by Kausalya’s family and carried out by hired killers.
Shankara and Kausalya had met in college, fallen in love and married against her family’s wishes.
And despite a landmark verdict in 2017 that sentenced her father and five others to death, she was still denied justice when the Madras High Court overturned the Sessions Court verdict in 2020 and acquitted her father and two others.
Kausalya’s struggle is far from over. She is a fierce activist who raises her voice against caste violence and honor killing. She has also set up a foundation in her husband’s name that works to uplift children from marginalized communities.
Now, a fierce follower of the teachings of BR Ambedkar and Periyar, she also learned to play for and married Sakti, a for an artist in a ceremony of self-esteem.
Sakthi is also an activist and stands against caste atrocities. “At one point he was fired, but later the decision was changed. I refused the job because I understood that my duty is to society,” says Kausalya.
Kausalya recently quit his government job to become an entrepreneur. She opened a beauty salon, Zha, in Vellalur, Coimbatore, which was launched by actor Parvathy Thiruvottu a month ago.
“My government job prevented me from being a full-time activist or engaging in any kind of social work. My main fight is against honor killing and I had to get permission every time I had to talk to the media. It became difficult. Some of my friends suggested I get into the beauty business because I’ve always loved cosmetology,” she says. Her story.
After completing her “beautician course,” Kausalya took out a bank loan, pawned her jewelry, and borrowed money from a friend to start Zha.
She says the salon will be “family friendly, with no separate services for women, men and children.”
“We provide all beauty services, not just haircuts and styling. We also offer high-quality beauty products,” she says.
In addition to donating a portion of the company’s earnings to social causes, Kausalya wants to encourage other survivors to start their own businesses.
“We are ready to offer our salon franchises, the necessary training and all the help they need to get them back on their feet and start a new life,” she says.
Kausalya’s fight against honor killing is continuous. She says it’s encouraging that there’s more awareness and conversations are happening, but there’s still some way to go.
“It’s all about gender equality. Parents should treat boys and girls equally from childhood. To do this, parents should first understand how equality contributes to the progress of society,” she says.
Kausalya uses all available forums and stages to speak about honor killings and believes that such cases need sensitization at all levels, even among the police.
She is also seeking a law against honor killings in Tamil Nadu. “While there is an act against this heinous crime in Rajasthan, I hope the DMK government will implement it in the state as well,” she says.
Despite the many challenges in her path, her fight is relentless. Shankar Social Justice Trust helps victims of caste violence and has saved many women from a similar fate. It has given them safe havens if they have opposed out-of-caste marriages.
“My friends – followers of Periyar, Ambedkar and Marx – are my family. They continue to support me every step of the way. We are not bound by blood but by the cause of doing good to humanity,” says Kausalya.