In 1999, Tiruppur resident Se Gunasekar helped Kalyani, a Dalit woman, and Babu, a Malayali Christian, get married despite opposition from both their families.
However, in 2003, a couple — D Kannagi (22) and S Murugesan (25) — were forcefully taken to the cremation ground, where they were poisoned, beaten up, and murdered.
The only crime the couple had committed was to fall in love and get married. It took 18 years for the victims to get justice, and 13 people including Kannagi’s father and brother were finally convicted.
But this incident motivated Gunasekar even more to help inter-caste married couples, so they have a safe place to go to.
Inspired by advocate P Rathinam who was fighting the case at the time, Gunasekar began pursuing law at the age of 40.
In 2011, after completing his law degree, he started a society named Ambedkar Periyar Inter-Caste Married Couples’ Association.
With this association, he helps arrange and perform several inter-caste weddings for couples who come to him for help.
He has also divided his home into two parts — one part is for his family and the other for the couples that come to him for help.
He registered his NGO in 2017 under the name Adhalinal Kadhal Seiveer (AKS), which translates to ‘therefore, go ahead and love’.
Under his setup, he has also bought land in a police colony and built a safe place for intercaste couples. “There’s a training academy here, and many retired policemen stay here as well,” he explains.
Over the years, with a network of around 300 lawyers across the state, the NGO has helped around 200 inter-caste couples live freely and safely.
Every couple who comes for help is assigned a lawyer on the day of marriage who help them with documents, such as marriage certificates, as well as collaboration with the police in case of threats.
The service is free for those who cannot afford the fee, otherwise, they are charged a fee to fund the organisation.
Over the decade, he has received threats for his work, but Gunasekar has no plans of stopping.
“I have this black shirt with Periyar’s symbol on it so that people are aware of where my ideologies lie, and what I believe in. They know who I am, they know what I do, and that is enough for me to continue my work regardless,” he says.