Published: 14th February 2018
This techie created an app to help inter-caste couples escape their families' wrath, reduce honour killings in TN
Vasumathi Vasanthi, a software professional talks about how she was motivated to create an app called Kadhal Aran that will provide help to couples running away from getting 'honour-killed'
On March 13, a young newlywed couple was riding back home on their two-wheeler in a busy street in broad daylight. They were returning from spending the day shopping for the husband's birthday clothes. They didn't make it home and the birthday clothes never got used. Out of nowhere, a group of men attacked the couple, hacked Shankar to death and grievously injured Kausalya. It was just another day, just another honour killing.
While we fret over Tinder dates and whether to wear the red or the green dress to lunch or whether to have a candlelight dinner at home on Valentine's Day, let us take a minute to digest the following statistic. Over 300 cases of honour killings have been reported in the country since 2014. 300! We have to also take into consideration these are REPORTED cases, there are hundreds more that didn't find it's way to a register.
The privileged remain a minuscule number, for the larger majority in this country falling in love is like signing your own death warrant. These couples couldn't rely on their family, they couldn't expect much from friends, they had no police protection despite the law being on their side and they had no lawyers to tell them about this law.
Justice Speaking: Vasumathi Vasanthi has been actively participating in anti-caste discussions and events
It was the many cases of Shankars, Kausalyas and Illavarasans that pushed Vasumathi Vasanthi, a software engineer to create Kadhal Aran, an app to help couples escaping honour killing and torture. The app brilliantly puts together a complete support system for anyone looking for help — all the victim has to do is register their phone number with the app. "We have a few volunteers in every district in the State. A volunteer will call the victim and get a thorough understanding of the situation. Based on the details provided, the volunteers will put the couple in touch with legal help, police help, housing help or even emotional support," explained Vasumathi. "Most couples are terrified of going to the police and when they go to a court to meet lawyers, they are so lost. They have no way knowing how to find a good lawyer. Sometimes they might just need some emotional support. Our volunteers in the respective districts will help them with this," she added.
Who can 'app-eal' for help?
You can register and call for help:
If the victim is being tortured, beaten or locked up at home by the family
If the victim is being forced into marriage
If the couple are of legal age and have got married but are receiving threats from family
If the couple needs to flee the area due to death threats but have no support to do so
If a couple wants to get married but are not being allowed to by their families
If a person has broken up with their partner and are seeking emotional or psychological support
The person seeking help has to be of legal age, 'confident' about their love and should be able to stand by their decision — these are the requirements of the administrators of the app
If the victim is being forced to marry someone against their will, if the victim wants to marry someone else but their family is holding them captive, if two individuals want to marry each other but are facing threats from their families or if a couple got married in secret and are finding a way to leave the district. "Some families are just waiting to find and kill the couple, so they have no other option other than to flee the area. So we help them find transport and shelter in a new city and any other help they might need at that hour," she explained.
The app was launched exactly a year ago on Valentine's Day and by none other than Kausalya herself. "I had met her at many anti-caste meetings after the murder and decided to work with her on various issues. So when I developed this app, there was no one better than her who could have launched the app. She had told me then, that if she and Shankar had had the same sort of information available to her, Shankar would have probably been alive today. When she said that, it felt like the hard work was worth it," explained Vasumathi.
But how did Vasumathi become so interested in caste issues? "I've worked in IT for many years now and even here I see such a bias. Even in an environment like this there is so much caste discrimination. So I asked myself what I can do to help the cause, so I became part of anti-caste organisation and then when a company approached me to design an app for Valentine's Day, I thought it might be interesting to develop something for those couple fighting against caste in order to just get married to each other."
Happier Times: Shankar and Kausalya barely enjoyed their married life for a few weeks before tragedy struck
Even though the app was launched a year ago, they haven't been able to make it fully functional as the team was still building a network of volunteers across the state, "For a year now, we have been compiling data of volunteers and now we have volunteers in all districts. So we will be relaunching the app later this month. Hopefully now, more people will come to know of the app and begin to use."
Many greats have said in the past that inter-caste marriages are the only way that the country will be able to break the shackles of caste, "I know of many families that don't mind that their son or daughter remain unmarried for years if they are unable to find a partner who is from the same caste and class. They will never think of going outside their caste to look for a spouse. That is how rigid people continue to be about caste. So we have to encourage people to fall in love irrespective of caste and class. We have to fight against caste, we have to let love win over caste," Vasumathi said.
Not many would realise how revolutionary an app like this is for a country like ours but Kausalya does, because she loved and lost. Lost her love to caste hate. Now with Kadhal Aran, we hopefully would be able to save at least a few Shankars, who go on to celebrate their birthdays and manage to return home to their loved ones.