Each year, a large number of individuals are given a “Padma” award. The norm has been to ensure that such awards be given to those who have for one reason or the other come to the favourable attention of those in power. Certainly many of the awardees are deserving of the honour. Several have worked for decades in assisting public causes, although of course a whiff of favoured treatment gets attached to some of those selected. A group that has been severely under-represented in the Awards List each year is the youth, an unfortunate circumstance in a country where 70% of the population counts as either young or very young. A way of rectifying such a skewness in the selection of candidates would be the award in 2018 of the Padma Shri to Kausalya Sankar, the widow of an individual who was hacked to death in March last year. His crime? Although a Dalit, he fell in love with and married a girl from the Thevar community, a group hugely influential in Tamil Nadu politics, and the same to which Sasikala Natarajan (who for years had overpowering influence within the state) belongs. Caste by birth is an ethical monstrosity that has no place in a civilised society. Those who believe in such an ephemeral concept are doing an injustice to Vedic traditions in India, where in ancient times those from what were subsequently labelled as so-called “lower castes” achieved great feats and enjoyed the highest positions and respect. Valmiki was an example. Indeed, Lord Krishna, the destroyer of the Kuru Vamsa, came from the Yadava clan. Judging by information available, Sankar was an outstanding young man of high character and intellect, and rather than commit such a despicable deed as his murder, the father of Sankar’s bride Kausalya ought to have welcomed him into the household. The couple were clearly in love with each other, and so deep was this feeling that (unlike in some other cases of honour deaths) the bereaved bride fought for the conviction of her own parents and openly rejoiced at the death penalty that was awarded by Judge Alamelu Natarajan to her own father. In other words, justice trumped all other considerations in the mind of this young woman, whose loyalty and devotion to her departed husband is such that she has chosen to remain with his parents, rather than live separately. Kausalya represents the finest qualities of the youth of India, which is to be free of “caste by birth” prejudice. Which is to place the needs of justice above all else. Which is to show a sense of commitment that is as strong as steel and which is unshakeable.
Who can forget that it was Bhimrao Ambedkar who played a keystone role in the drafting of the Constitution of India? Who can forget the many illustrious members of the Dalit community from which Sankar hailed and their contribution to national welfare? Indeed, given his decades of service to the underprivileged, it would be fitting for the Narendra Modi government to put politics aside and nominate Dadasaheb Kanshi Ram for a posthumous Bharat Ratna. It is a national disgrace that to this day, so far into the 21st century, there are still atrocities committed against the Dalit community by those with medieval minds and wicked hearts. Those who conspired to kill Sankar simply for the (in their warped view) crime of marrying a girl from the Thevar community have earned a footnote in history as symbols of evil and small mindedness. Honour killings are among the most dishonourable of deeds possible, and the murder of Sankar qualifies as such. The Tamil Nadu police deserve congratulations for not allowing interested lobbies to interfere with their investigations, and for securing a speedy conclusion of the case. Hopefully, the matter will not get dragged on for years more, but justice be done speedily to those found responsible for the unconscionable murder of a fine son of India. Kausalya Sankar represents the true spirit of 21st century India. Hers is a mind free of the poison of caste prejudice. Hers is a character of steel and a mind of immense clarity. Kausalya Sankar merits the honour of being awarded the Padma Shri at the very next investiture ceremony.