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In India, 6 People Get Death Penalty For 'Untouchable' Attack

Construction work in progress by Dalit and tribals people at Pappapatti Villaget, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India. Due to their lowest caste, Dalits, formerly known as "untouchables" are often relegated to jobs such as construction and garbage collection.

A court in India has sentenced six people to death for the brutal killing of a man belonging the country's Dalit caste, formerly known as untouchables, after he married a higher-caste woman. The bride's father was among those convicted for his role in masterminding the attack.

The case stems from a March 2016 attack on the victim, 22-year-old Sankar, who was hacked to death by a gang of knife-wielding men outside a shopping mall in Udumalpet, a rural town in India's southern state of Tamil Nadu. His wife, Kausalya, was also severely wounded in the assault, but survived.

The Indian Express reports: "The CCTV footage that spread through social media triggered protests. ... [It] showed Sankar collapsing in a pool of blood after the attack and Kausalya pleading for help."

Kausalya is from the town's Thevar community, while Sankar belonged to the caste formerly known in India as untouchables.

The attack was deemed an "honor killing." In total, 11 were charged in the murder: Kausalya's father and five others received the death penalty; the bride's mother was acquitted, along with two others. Two of the assailants received lesser sentences – one life in prison and another five years.

The court also awarded financial compensation of 1,195,000 rupees (about $18,500) to Sankar's family.

According to The Hindu newspaper, the couple "were students of a private engineering college ... where they met and fell in love." And that Kausalya's parents "had opposed the marriage and even moved the court to separate them. Since she was [of legal age] and the marriage was on mutual consent no legal action could be initiated."

The assault on the couple occurred about eight months after their marriage, according to the Express.

The News Minute, speaking to the bride's grandfather recently, quoted him as saying that Sankar "is not from our caste, and our way of life is different. How can we allow our child to marry a man from a lower caste?"

The sentences, which still must be confirmed by a higher court, are believed unprecedented for such a case of "honor killing," which is often tolerated in traditional Indian society.

Several organizations that advocate for Dalits rallied to the widow's aid, however, "Popular political parties chose not to intervene fearing a backlash from the powerful [Thevar] community, to which Kausalya's family belonged, in the 2016 Assembly polls," the Express reports.

Last year, NPR's Julie McCarthy reported on another case in which four Dalit men accused of killing a cow, a sacred animal in India, were nearly beaten to death. In the report, Julie explains:

"For millennia, caste has been the organizing principle of society in India. Determined by birth, caste draws distinctions between communities, determining one's profession, level of education and potential marriage partner. Privileges are reserved for the upper castes and denied the lower ones. The lowliest in this pecking order are the Dalits, once called 'untouchables' as they are consigned by the Hindu hierarchy to the dirtiest occupations. It's a sizable community of some 200 million people. The word Dalit comes from a Hindi word meaning 'oppressed, suppressed, downtrodden.'"

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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