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Why is Swetha’s murder not moving us as much as Swathi’s

Murder scene in Tambaram. Ramachandran, the alleged perpetrator, is kneeling down. A woman (bottom left) is bending down to ascertain if Swetha is alive (body not shown).

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In its brutality, sickness of intent, execution, and the profile of the victim and the murderer, the two murders are not very dissimilar. The reaction to Swathi’s murder in June, 2016, was immediate and visceral. It seemed to strike a stronger chord among people. But it is quite likely Swetha’s murder on Sept 23, 2021, may not move people as much.


Ramachandran, the alleged perpetrator

What probably added to the drama in 2016 was that there was a whodunit to Swathi’s murder. The alleged murderer was caught after nearly a week. The continuing story added to the drama and helped to keep the attention of the people and the media on the looming sickness in the psyche of young Tamil men. A sickness buttressed by decades of what defines macho in Tamil movies – where the hero has the license to stalk and threaten women they “love”. In “Paruthiveeran”, for instance, the macho hero could casually raid his woman’s house and declare aloud with gestures that he would hack his ladylove if she didn’t marry him because her parents opposed their match. The heroine was proud of her man’s macho, too – he had threatened to hack her with a sickle and she found it bliss giving.

As the police tracked down Ramkumar over a week, all the elements in the case got their due attention in the media spotlight. Political parties pitched in and took positions – for and against the government of the day. Opposition leader MK Stalin met with Swathi’s family. It was then a purported case of failure of law and order against a young woman in a state whose chief minister was a woman – Jayalalithaa. Now, since the story will likely die down by tomorrow, no politician may find it worthwhile to weigh in consistently.

That Swathi worked in Infosys – the blue chip IT major and symbol of Indian techie prowess — only added to the underprivileged, rural boy and the elite city girl narrative.

Swathi’s murder was probably the first such incident that happened in the heart of the city at a public place. First time, it is tragedy worthy of the headlines. Second time, it is less so, sadly enough.  And Swetha’s murder happened in Tambaram, not quite heart of the city. Tambaram qualifies as a suburb, on the edge of rural Tamil Nadu, and is not really Chennai.


Swetha the Madras Christian College student who was murdered in Tambaram on Sept 23, 2021

The social background of the victim and the perpetrator that started as a matter of detail in Swathi’s case soon grew into a matter of grave importance especially in social media. That Ramkumar was dalit and Swathi was brahmin were not to be overlooked. That Swathi worked in Infosys – the blue chip IT major and symbol of Indian techie prowess — only added to the underprivileged, rural boy and the elite city girl narrative. These are pet contradictions of filmmakers who continue to mine them for dramatic effect.

Swetha is the daughter of a bus driver in Chrompet, unlike Swathi. Ramachandran is a BE graduate from Thirukkuvalai.

What has also changed is the social context. In these days of lockdowns and social distancing, the Swetha murder is only compounding the gloom. And therefore its extraordinary import may well be missed. Swetha’s murder has once again thrown into the spotlight the misplaced machismo and lack of real self esteem among young men, as well as attitudes that can only be considered sick. It will certainly not serve us to ignore the case.

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