Blue Murder

The Swathi murder case, a Dalit youth’s death and unanswered questions in Tamil Nadu

31 July 2022
Press outside of Royapettah Government Hospital where P Ramkumar was declared dead after he allegedly took his own life in Puzhal Central Jail. The local media framed the Swathi case as Tamil Nadu’s Nirbhaya moment—the equivalent of the infamous rape and murder of a young woman in Delhi, in 2012, that led to mass outrage and a reckoning over women’s safety.
DINODIA IMAGES / ALAMY PHOTO
Press outside of Royapettah Government Hospital where P Ramkumar was declared dead after he allegedly took his own life in Puzhal Central Jail. The local media framed the Swathi case as Tamil Nadu’s Nirbhaya moment—the equivalent of the infamous rape and murder of a young woman in Delhi, in 2012, that led to mass outrage and a reckoning over women’s safety.
DINODIA IMAGES / ALAMY PHOTO

WHEN I MET DILEEPAN MAHENDRAN, in February this year, he seemed a man obsessed. His small one-room home on the outskirts of Chennai was overflowing with paper clippings. His laptop had at least a dozen case files open and a Facebook page pinging occasionally. The place resembled the den of an investigative journalist who had hit upon a big story or that of a private detective in a noir film. However, it belonged to the proprietor of a struggling biryani shop.

The case that so obsessed Dileepan—he spent nearly every evening, after a sweaty day at work, combing through the details and filming videos for his YouTube channel—was one of the most sensationalised murders Tamil Nadu had seen in decades.

On the morning of 24 June 2016, S Swathi, a 24-year-old IT professional from a Brahmin community, was murdered in broad daylight on a platform at the railway station in Nungambakkam, one of Chennai’s most upmarket areas. Her body was left unattended for nearly two hours, till senior police personnel came to the spot. The police soon reported that the she had been killed by P Ramkumar, a 24-year-old man from the Pallar caste—classified as a Scheduled Caste in the state. They claimed Ramkumar had stalked Swathi for several weeks and that she had spurned his advances.

Don't want to read further? Stay in touch

  • Free newsletters. updates. and special reads
  • Be the first to hear about subscription sales
  • Register for Free

    Sujatha Sivagnanam is a reporting fellow at The Caravan.

    Keywords: Tamil Nadu Tamil Nadu Police honour killings Pattali Makkal Katchi custodial violence
    COMMENT