Four people in India have been found beheaded over the past two weeks in what investigators suspect to be gang-related violence.
Sankara Subramanium, Nirmala Devi, and Stephen Raj were all found decapitated in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. The head of a man called Mariappan was later found on Subramanium’s grave.
The head of Devi, a 70-year-old woman who was accused in the murder of Dalit caste leader Pasupathy Pandian in 2012, was placed outside of his home.
Police have said that the deaths are connected to a war between caste “gangs” stemming from the Pandian and Pannaiyar groups.
Pandians belong to the Dalit caste, the so-called ‘untouchables’ from the ancient system of hierarchy who are often, violently, pushed out of wider society. The Pannaiyar’s belong to a historically more dominant caste.
Following a crackdown in the state 450 people, dubbed “antisocial elements” and “rowdies” by authorities, were arrested.
A senior police officer in Tamil Nadu told the Indian Express : “Caste affinity motivates them.”
Another officer involved in the case added: “They all had a collective motive – of revenge. Nothing could have stopped them.”
Police say that the war between the two groups started in 1993 following the murder of an elderly relative of Subash Pannaiyar, the leader of the gang by the same name.
Pannaiyar believed Pandian was behind it, thus sparking a series of revenge killings.
In 2006, the Pannaiyar gang were accused of playing a role in the death of Pandian’s wife, Jacintha. Six years later Pandian wound up dead, having been implicated in eight murders himself.
In recent weeks, it would seem that the killings have continued.
Caste-based discrimination was outlawed in India in 1950, but that did very little to stop the caste system existing. There is at least one incident of caste-based violence every hour in the country.
Evidence, an NGO monitoring crimes against people of the Dalit caste, recorded at least 300 caste-motivated murders in the past five years in 33 of Tamil Nadu’s districts.
Statistics from the Indian government show that conviction rates for violent crimes against Dalits remains very low, but incidents of violence against them is on the rise.
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