"My breast milk is now flowing as blood from his body" is a riveting line from a popular Tamil movie called Devar Magan, which means a son from the Devar community. It is a scene in which the villain's mother cries after he is slain by the hero.

Any moviegoer of the last two decades in the film crazy southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu will instantly recall this line from the Kamal Hassan-starrer whenever the film is mentioned. The movie, released in 1992, is still hailed for the poignant manner in which caste conflict is depicted.

Dealing with the multifarious sociological factors of a caste system in the region, Devar Magan attempts to portray diverse elements of the Devar community which swears by valour. The community is now in the limelight in Tamil Nadu for all the wrong reasons.

Dalit vs Devar

When 22-year-old Shankar was crossing a busy road holding his newly-married wife's hands on a sunny Sunday afternoon in Udumalapet, little did he expect those would be his last moments. Shankar, a Dalit, was hacked by three machete-wielding young men on 13 March, in what has become a case of "honour killing".

The motive: Shankar married Kowsalya, 19, who hails from the influential Devar community, a politically dominant and socially proud clan. Dalits are at the lowest in the caste hierarchy.
Shankar died on the way to hospital while Kowsalya suffered serious injuries in the grisly incident. Onlookers watched the attack in horror as the three hired assailants, who appeared in no hurry, rode away on a motorcycle.

"My parents should be arrested and hanged. They are responsible for my husband's killing," Kowsalya, in blood-soaked clothes, told reporters at the hospital.
Kowsalya's father, Chinnaswamy, has now confessed to the police that he had engaged the killers.

The incident, which took place in broad daylight at a place where there were more than a dozen witnesses, has sent shockwaves through the district and nearby areas.
Members of the Dalit community and relatives of Shankar have also been staging protests over the killing.

IBTimes UK spoke to at least four senior police officers handling the investigation, and none of them expressed shock at the public hacking. There was even a hint that this is not the first time such incidents have occurred.

The killing was caught on closed-circuit cameras and wide media coverage eventually forced the authorities to act. One senior police officer, who did not wish to be identified as he was not authorised to speak to the media, said this is a characteristic case of inter-caste killings, especially related to marriages.

At least five people have been arrested so far and one of the key suspects, Kowsalya's uncle, is still on the run. While the investigation is on, Shankar's brother, Vigneswaran, told IBTimes UK that they are waiting for Kowsalya to recover from her injuries.

Kowsalya was grievously wounded in the attack leaving her with 32 stitches on the head and has a possible skull fracture. Vigneswaran added that she will soon be able to identify the killers.

"It was a well-planned attack. It's likely that they have masterminded the murder for several weeks. It was in the middle of a road in broad daylight. The murder scene was in the middle of two major junctions. Can't the police catch them at the signal? It took place just like it was in the movies. All of a sudden, three people came out of nowhere and brutally murdered my brother," the Dalit victim's brother said.

Honour killings

The National Human Rights Commission, an autonomous body of the federal government, has sought a report from the Tamil Nadu government and the state police chief within four weeks. A commission statement said: "The incident raises serious questions relating to the safety of persons belonging to lower castes... The matter was in the knowledge of the police but it failed to provide them adequate security."

Various studies and pro-Dalit organisations suggest Shankar's murder is not an isolated incident as many such killings in the name of honour continue to take place in the rural areas of India with increasing frequency. However, no reliable figures of such killings are available. Official figures indicate that there have been 81 cases of honour killing in Tamil Nadu since July 2013. In up to 80% of the incidents, women were the victims.

The latest killing comes as Tamil Nadu, a state with nearly 70 million people, prepares to hold state assembly elections in May. The incident is bound to have a major impact on the elections as caste has always been a key deciding factor.