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

In 2016, Shankar, a Dalit man, and his wife Kausalya, who belong to the Thevar community, were attacked in broad daylight in Udumalpet town in Tamil Nadu’s Tiruppur district, in a gruesome case of honor killing and caste- based violence.

While Shankar died instantly, Kausalya survived with serious injuries. CCTV footage of the gruesome incident, which later went viral, would reveal a shocking case of honor killing initiated by Kausalya’s family and carried out by hitmen.

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

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

Kausalya’s battle is far from over. She is an ardent activist who raises her voice against caste-based violence and honor killing. She also started a foundation in her husband’s name that works to uplift children from marginalized communities.

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Now, an ardent follower of the teachings of BR Ambedkar and Periyar, she also learned to the paray and married to Sakthi, a parai artist in a self-respect ceremony.

Sakthi is also an activist and is outspoken against caste atrocities. “He was fired at one stage, but the decision was later reversed. I resigned from my job because I realized my duty was towards society,” says Kausalya.

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The beauty business

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Kausalya with actor Parvathy Thiruvothu at the opening of the Zha salon

Kausalya recently quit her government job to become an entrepreneur. She opened a beauty salon, Zha, in Vellalur, 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 killing, and I had to get permission every time I had to talk to the media. It became difficult. Some of my friends suggested that I go into the beauty industry because I have always loved cosmetics,” she says Her Story.

After completing a “beautician course”, Kausalya took a bank loan, pawned her jewels and borrowed money from a friend to start Zha.

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The salon, she says, will be a “family-friendly one with no separate services for women, men and children”.

“We provide all beauty services, which go 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 businesses.

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

Kausalya’s fight against honor killing is an ongoing one. She says it is encouraging that there is more awareness and conversations are underway, but there is still a way to go.

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

Using every available forum and platform to talk about honor killing, Kausalya believes such matters need to be sensitized 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 enforce one in the state as well,” she says.

Despite the many challenges in her path, her fight is unrelenting. The Shankar Social Justice Trust helps victims of caste violence, and has saved many women from meeting a similar fate. This gave them safe havens when they were opposed for marrying out of their caste.

“My friends – followers of Periyar, Ambedkar and Marx – are my family. They continue to support me every step of the way. We are not related by blood – but by cause – to do good for humanity,” says Kausalya.

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