Honour killing survivor Kausalya Shankar becomes entrepreneur, wants to help other women

In 2016, in a horrific spate of honor killings and caste-based violence, Shankar, a Dalit man, and his wife Kausalya, who belongs 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 serious injuries. CCTV footage of the gruesome incident, which later went viral, would bring to light a shocking case of honor killing initiated by Kausalia’s family and carried out by hired killers.

Shankar and Kausalya met in college, fell in love and married against her family’s wishes.

And despite a landmark judgment in 2017 that sentenced her father, along with five others to death, justice continued to be denied to her when the Madras High Court, in 2020, overturned the sessions court verdict and acquitted her father and two others.

Causal action is far from over. She is a fierce activist, raising her voice against caste-based violence and honor killings. She also started a foundation in her husband’s name that works to uplift children from marginalized communities.

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Now a fierce follower of the teachings of BR Ambedkar and Periyar, she also learned to play the association, and married to Sakthi, a parai Artist in a self-respect ceremony.

Sakthi is also an activist and is vocal against caste atrocities. “At one point, he was fired, but the decision was later reversed. I resigned from my job because I realized that my duty was to society,” says Kausalia.

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The beauty business

Kausalya

Kausalya with actor Parvathy Thiruvothu at the opening of Jha Salon

Kausalya recently quit her government job to become an entrepreneur. She opened a beauty salon, Jha, in Vellur, Coimbatore, which was inaugurated by actor Parvathy Thiruvothu a month ago.

“My government job did not allow me to be a full-time activist or engage in any form of social work. My main fight is against honor killings, and I had to take permission every time I had to speak to the media. It is became difficult. Some of my friends suggested I get into the beauty business because I always loved cosmetology,” she told Mr. Story.

After finishing “Kus Byutianish”, Kausalya took a bank loan, insured her jewels and borrowed money from a friend in order to start JE.

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The salon, she says, will be a “family-friendly one with separate services for women, men and children”.

“We provide all beauty services, beyond haircuts and styling. We also offer high-quality beauty products,” she says.

Apart from donating some proceeds from the business to social causes, Kausalya wants to encourage other survivors to start their own business.

“We are ready to offer franchisees of our salon, the required training and all the help that is required for them to stand on their own feet and start a new life,” she says.

Kausalya’s fight against honor killing is continuous. She says it’s heartening that there’s more awareness and conversations happening, but there’s still a way to go.

“It all comes down to equality of the sexes. Parents should treat boys and girls equally from the time of children. For this, parents should first understand how equality drives progress in society,” she says.

Kausalya uses every available forum and stage to talk about honor killings, and believes that such cases need sensitization at all levels, even among the police.

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She is also seeking a law against honor killing in Tamil Nadu. “While there is an act in Rajasthan against this heinous crime, I hope the DMK government will implement one in the state as well,” she says.

Despite the many challenges in her path, her fight is relentless. The Shankar Social Justice Trust helps victims of caste violence, and has saved many women from meeting a similar fate. It gave them safe places to stay when they were attacked for marrying out of caste.

“My friends – followers of Periyar, Ambedkar and Marx – are my family. They continue to support me at every step. We are not connected by blood – but by reason – to do good for humanity,” says Kausalia.

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