On the evening of October 22, 22-year old Dinesh Kumar barged into the home of one of his neighbours in a remote village in Tamil Nadu’s Salem district and chopped off the head of a 14-year-old girl as her mother watched in horror. He then carried the severed head to his own home before tossing it out on the road.

Soon after, conflicting reports about what could have led to the murder emerged. A few Tamil newspapers reported that Kumar was mentally ill while The News Minute questioned whether it was a sex crime or a caste crime. The teenaged victim had hailed from the Parayar community, a Scheduled Caste group in the state, while Kumar is from the Mudaliar community, one of the dominant castes in the region.

A Kathir, executive director of Evidence, a human rights organisation based in Madurai, visited Thalavaipatti village on October 25 and published a fact-finding report. On Saturday, he told Scroll.in that Kumar had been accused of “sexually harassing” the girl. He also said it was a caste crime and accused the police of delaying the investigation.

Caste angle, sexual harassment charge

Speaking to reporters on Saturday, the victim’s mother said that for two days before the murder, her daughter had seemed depressed and refused to go to school. “When I asked her, she would start crying and lie down,” she recalled. “After some time, she said that Dinesh had pulled her hand when she went to his house.”

Kumar worked as a driver and machine operator in a rice mill in Salem town and visited his wife and child in the village every weekend. Kathir said the girl’s family had alleged that Kumar had sexually harassed her each time he visited the village and that this had been going on for four years. Kathir added that the villagers had started talking about this, which had enraged Kumar. “He was angry that the family might have told the neighbours about his behaviour,” said Kathir.

The mother said that on the day of the murder, she and her daughter were stringing flowers at home when an enraged Kumar barged in, sickle in hand. He yelled “Parachi”, a casteist slur for a Parayar woman, she said. Seeing the sickle, she rushed towards Kumar. “I fainted after he pushed me to the wall,” she added. When she regained consciousness, she said, she saw Kumar walking towards his home carrying her daughter’s head. She also recalled hearing Kumar’s wife Saradha telling him to throw the head out. He did this, then rode off on his bike with his wife.

Mental health of accused

Saradha said her husband had been behaving abnormally for over a month and had been violent towards their child. She denied the sexual harassment allegations and added that her husband did not like the girl coming to their house because she was from a lower caste, The News Minute reported.

According to the first information report, Kumar has been booked for murder and under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. Kathir’s fact-finding report as well as a senior police official rubbished reports of the accused being mentally ill. “How will the court remand a person if he was mentally challenged?” asked the police official. The police are expected to file the chargesheet by next week and may also book Kumar under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012.

Alleging a delay in the investigation and expressing distrust in the public prosecutor, the human rights organisation Evidence plans to find an independent lawyer to represent its case as permitted in the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. It has also sent petitions to the director general of police and the state chief secretary asking that the accused not be released on bail.