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 the town of ‘ Udumalpet in Tiruppur district of Tamil Nadu.

While Shankar died on the spot, Kausalya survived with severe injuries. CCTV footage of the gruesome incident, which later went viral, would bring to light a shocking case of honor killing initiated by Kausalya’s family and carried out by hired killers.

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

And, despite an important sentence in 2017 that sentenced her father, along with five others to death, justice continued to be denied to her when the High Court of Madras, in 2020, lifted the verdict of the court of Sessions and acquitted her father and two others.

Kausalya’s struggle 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 raise children from marginalized communities.

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Now, an ardent follower of the teachings of BR Ambedkar and Periyar, she also learned to play the parai, and married Sakthi, a parai performer 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 my duty was to the society,” says Kausalya.

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The beauty business


Kausalya with actor Parvathy Thiruvothu at the opening of Zha salon

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

“My work in the government 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 get permission every time I had to talk to the media. It was getting difficult. Some of my friends suggested I go into the beauty business as I have always loved cosmetology,” she says HerStory.

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

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The salon, she says will be “family friendly 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.

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

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

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

“It all comes down to gender equality. Parents should treat boys and girls equally from childhood. For this, parents must 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 enforce one in the state as well,” she says.

Despite the many challenges on her way, her fight is relentless. The Shankar Social Justice Trust helps victims of caste violence, and has saved many women from meeting a similar fate. Gave them safe places to stay when they opposed marrying out of 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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