A devastated victim of a brutal honour killing that saw her father attempt to kill her but killed her husband says she will never forgive her family and hopes they get the death sentence.
Gowsalya Sankar, 19, and her husband of eight months Sankar Valusamy, 22, were attacked in broad day light in a shopping area in Udumalpet town, in Tamil Nadu, southern India, on March 13 by three men, just because they were from different castes.
Armed with long knives the men attacked the young married couple shouting ‘love marriage – face the consequences’.
The death has highlighted the rising number of honour killings in India as more mixed caste-couples form relationships in defiance of their families. There are more than 1,000 ‘honour killings’ – while some campaigners believe there are up to 10,000 – every year in India of couples who reject arranged marriages for the partner of their choosing whey love.
Sankar died in hospital later the same day while Gowsalya battled to stay alive suffering deep lacerations to her head and hand needing 36 stitches in total.
love marriage – face the consequences
Ten people have now been arrested including Gowsalya’s father, mother, uncle, cousin and members of the community and have admitted their crimes.
In her first exclusive interview Gowsalya said: ‘My family does not exist for me anymore. I never want to see them again. For me they’re my husband’s murderers. I have no emotions or affection for them any more and I hope they get the death sentence. I will never forgive them.’
Gowsalya met Sankar in 2014 while travelling on a bus on their way to study at the same nearby college, PA College of Engineering and Technology, and started talking daily.
Gowsalya said: ‘I remember this cute guy coming up to me and and he just started talking to me. But I wasn’t so interested so I ignored him. Two days later he come up to me again. He was very polite to I started talking to him. The following week he told me he liked me but I just dismissed it. After that we carried on talking every time we saw one another and slowly my feelings grew. After two months I was in love.’
In time, the pair became close and Gowsalya fell for Sankar’s caring and sensitive nature. They exchanged mobile numbers and spent hours on the phone to each other every evening.
But in a country like India with a traditional caste based system where your family’s social line dictates your life, Gowsalya knew her family would never approve of her relationship with Sankar, who was from India’s lowest caste, the Dalits also known as the ‘Untouchables’.
‘I hate India’s caste system,’ says Gowsalya, who is from the area’s most politically powerful Thevar community. ‘I knew my family would not accept him but I thought I could convince them. I thought my father loved me, I thought I could persuade him.
I hope they get the death sentence. I will never forgive them
‘Sankar was the most wonderful person. I was his everything. He cared for me like no one else. He cared for me in every way. I couldn’t stop loving him just because his family’s caste. It was crazy. He was a human like me. I couldn’t stop loving him even if I tried.’
After 11 months of secrets and hiding around corners, Gowsalya finally plucked up the courage to reveal all to her businessman father, Chinnasamy, 38 and mother Annalakshmi, 34.
She said: ‘They disapproved immediately. Just because Sankar belonged to a lower caste my father went crazy. I tried to convince him every day for a month but he didn’t change his mind.
‘A month later I overheard him on the phone with someone saying he had already fixed my marriage with a boy from an upper caste who was an MBA graduate. I was devastated. When I told him I wanted to marry Sankar he warned me there would be severe consequences if I did.’
That very same day, on July 12 2015, Gowsalya decided she would marry Sankar, a mechanical engineering student.
Gowsalya said: ‘I couldn’t think of living my life with anyone else. I loved Sankar and I wanted to be his wife, not anyone else or someone my father had arranged. And I knew Sankar felt the same.’
As soon as Gowsalya left her home she called Sankar and the pair quickly bought new wedding outfits. Gowsalya wore a golden brown sari while Sankar wore a traditional white wedding suit and the pair got married in a traditional Hindu ceremony in a local temple in front of Sankar’s family only.
She remembered: ‘It was the happiest day of my life. My dream of marrying Sankar had come true. It was so magical and I didn’t even care that my family wasn’t there. I don’t think there will be another day like it, ever.’
But Gowsalya knew the consequences if her family found out she had married behind their back. As soon as the ceremony was over they went to their local police station to report their fears and ask for protection.
Gowsalya moved in with Sankar and his family which is customary in India. She didn’t even tell her parents she was married.
Gowsalya said: ‘I’ve never believed in the caste system and think children should be left to make their own decisions in life. It is their life and nobody should interfere, not even parents. I took the decision to marry Sankar, even if my parents didn’t approve. It is my life and and I believed I was making the right decision in my life.’
Eventually news of the marriage reached Gowsalya’s parents and seven days after the wedding they went straight to Sankar’s home demanding Gowsalya returns home.
She said: ‘My parents turned up on our doorstep furious. My father was going crazy demanding I leave with him but I refused. He even threatened to kill us if I didn’t leave but I didn’t move. I did not marry Sankar to go back with my parents. I was serious about my marriage. I knew what I wanted. I married him because I loved him and felt there was nothing wrong with it. I ignored their warnings believing they were only threats.’
But the following week Gowsalya decided to quit her studies fearing she would be spotted on the street by her father.
Sankar decided to continue with his studies but work on weekends as a luggage boy at different places to earn Rs 400 (£4) a day to keep his wife safe at home.
Gowsalya added: ‘In spite of the fear surrounding us he decided to continue studying and work. He had dreams for our future and there wasn’t anyone who would stop him.’
‘I lived a happy life with him. Every day was more beautiful as I felt complete with him. It was a perfect life. He wanted to buy me jewelry and save to buy our own house. He wanted to provide for me.’
On their eight-month anniversary Sankar bought me chocolates to celebrate. He knew I love chocolates.
On March 13 the couple went out shopping for Sankar’s birthday which was on April 9, they had just walked out of a clothes store with shopping bags in their hands and were crossing the road when three men on a bike suddenly drove up to them and started attacking them with knives.
There were over 100 people in the area watching but no one stepped in to help.
Gowsalya was attacked first and she remembered: ‘One minute Sankar and I were talking and the next I hear a bike and I felt a sharp pain on my head and then I fell in and out of consciousness. I remember seeing Sankar step in to try to save me but he was attacked also. The attack lasted less than a minute. There was blood everywhere, we were just lying on the road. I remember police and an ambulance turning up and we were taken straight to hospital. I was in my senses in the ambulance and I could hear Sankar telling the ambulance staff to treat me first. His fingers were chopped off and he was bleeding profusely from his neck.’
The horrendous attack was captured on CCTV cameras attached to a nearby store, and the footage showed three men on a bike attacking Sankar and Gowsalya with weapons, with two others instructing the attack and abusing the couple.
At a government hospital in Coimbatore Gowsalya and Sankar were lying side by side in theemergency ward. She can still remember Sankar shouting to save her.
Gowsalya remembered: ‘I was telling him not to leave me and I cannot live without him. He was crying back ‘I’ll never leave you’. He was saying ‘I will always love you’ and ‘we’ll be together forever.’ Even in that condition he was thinking about me. He was screaming in pain but he was making sure I was being treated first.’
Just minutes later, as Gowsalya was being wheeled into surgery a doctor told her the devastating news that Sankar had died from his injuries. He had lost too much blood from his neck.
She said: ‘I was numb. I couldn’t digest it. I just broke down. I couldn’t believe what the doctors were telling me. I just cried and cried. I felt my life was over, I was shattered and wondered why am I still alive? I couldn’t believe he was dead. We had so much planned. I was sure he’d be ok. I couldn’t digest it.’
For the next 16 days Gowsalya remained in hospital under police protection. She suffered skull injuries and needed 36 stitches in total to her head and hands.
Her treatment meant she couldn’t even attend Sankar’s funeral.
No one from her family attempted to see her in hospital, not even her mother. And two days after the attack her father Chinnaswamy turned himself in to the police admitting that he intended to kill both his daughter and son-in-law because they married against his will.
The attack led to major protests in the state of Tamil Nadu due to the increasing number of ‘honour killings’ and news of the attack hit all national news channels.
The police arrested ten people connected to the attack, including Gowsalya’s mother and father, uncle and cousin.
Deputy Superintendent of Udumalpet Police, Vivekanandan, said: ‘A total of ten people involved in planning and executing the brutal murder have been arrested. I cannot say anymore about this sensitive case at this time.’
Gowsalya said: ‘I wonder how a father could do this to his own daughter. I thought he loved me. I never imagined any parent would do this to their child. I am their only daughter. I don’t understand why they were so angry. I fell in love, what is so bad about it?’
Gowsalya is now under 24-hour police protection while living with Sankar’s father Valusamy, 48, a farmer, and grandmother Mariaayi, 75, after his mother died in 2013.
She is still trying to come to terms with her horrendous loss and finding the strength to live her life again.
I was telling him not to leave me and I cannot live without him. He was crying back ‘I’ll never leave you
‘My life has no meaning now, I have lost the love of my life, the meaning of my life,’ she said. ‘India must change this caste system. Many people are suffering because of this caste system. Some are killed for falling in love, while others give up their love and live a life of misery fearing the wrath of their family and society. Nothing comes before humanity. How can we let such issues like caste rule our hearts and brains and kill the humanity inside of us?
‘I have lost my husband because of these attitudes. The emptiness can never be filled. I just have memories now. All I want is that this caste system should be demolished so that no one else dies like Sankar and another Gowsalya is left to suffer for life. Parents like mine should be given the strictest of punishments for what they have done.’