Caste Decided Nagaraju’s Fate: Murdered Hyderabad Dalit Man Tried Adopting Islam
Nagaraju had thought of adopting Islam, but Sultana's family refused to have ties with him because he was Dalit.
On Dasara 2021, when Billipuram Nagaraju reached his village Marpally, located around 100 kilometres from Hyderabad, he told his family that he plans to marry a Muslim woman, Syed Ashrin Sultana. But what was even more shocking to the family was that he wanted to convert to Islam, as his way of convincing Sultana’s family to agree to the marriage.
Nagaraju, did marry Sultana on 31 January 2022 at Aryasamaj Mandir, a Hindu religious place which allows interfaith marriages. However, he never became a Muslim because Sultana’s family, allegedly, was not ready to marry her off to a Dalit man.
According to Nagaraju's family, the deceased had even consulted a Muslim religious preacher to adopt Islam before the marriage. The plan did not workout as Nagaraju did not pursue it because he saw no acceptance from Sultana's family, his family said.
On 4 May 2022, the 26-year-old was stabbed to death in full public view at Saroornagar of Hyderabad allegedly by Sultana’s brother Syed Mobin Ahmed, 30, and his relative, Mohammed Masood Ahmed (29).
Why Nagaraju’s Caste and Religion Were Both Central to the Alleged Murder
While the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) called the murder an attack on a Hindu man, at Marpally, where Nagaraju’s funeral was held on 5 May, his friends and relatives referred to him as a Mala (Dalit). The word Hindu did not figure in their lexicon when it came to Nagaraju.
His aunt B Sanjeeva told The Quint, “Their problem was his caste. Shouldn’t Dalits get justice? When others (dominant caste) marry those from other religions there is no problem.” She added almost immediately after, “The girl’s family did not want her to marry a Hindu.”
Nagaraju’s murder, according to Telangana police, was linked to both his caste background and his religious status.
“The accused were not happy that he was Hindu. They were not happy that he was Dalit,” said a senior police officer who is in charge of the investigation. The police have invoked both IPC (section 302, murder) and Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act-1989.
As per the caste hierarchy, Mala is a sub-caste among Scheduled Castes.
Sultana Speaks of Caste Being Discussed at Home
In the two-room house where Nagaraju’s family lived, Sultana remained too tired to talk. She gathered strength, a few minutes later, to say, “My brother, Mobin, said that marriage won’t be allowed even if he converts to Islam. I heard them discuss he was from another caste. I heard them say Mala,” said Sultana.
This was six months ago, when the family got to know of the relationship, she said. There was no discussion about Nagaraju’s caste later on at Sultana’s home, she added. The woman’s family, however, told her that if she wants to live, she “will have to remain a Muslim.”
T Vinay, a childhood friend of Nagaraju said, “There was talk of him becoming Muslim. But here, the main problem was caste.” Sultana, according to a certificate issued by Aryasamaj, Hyderabad, adopted Hinduism at the time of her marriage. She was given the name Pallavi.
Nagaraju was the only son of B Srinivas and Anasuya. He has a younger sister who is married.
Nagaraju met Sultana at Government Junior College, Marpally. They were both students of the college, a decade ago. At the time, Sultana was a resident of Ganapur, a village close to Marpally.
The two, according to friends, fell in love. “We did not know that they were in a relationship. They never informed us till last Dasara, which was in October 2021,” Sanjeeva said. She insisted, the murder was because of “caste feeling,” even as she said, the family of the accused did not want a Hindu in their family.
She said Nagaraju even offered to help Sultana’s family out financially because they were financially underprivileged. Her brother, who was running the family, was a fruit vendor.
The plan did not pan out as the family refused to have any ties with Nagaraju. The couple got married in January 2022, and lodged two police complaints at Vikarabad.
Police Complaint at Vikarabad Speaks of Caste
When The Quint reached out to Vikarabad police, they remembered a joint complaint filed by Nagaraju and Sultana in January 2022.
The complaint said their life was under threat. According to a police official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, Nagaraju had described himself as a Mala in the complaint.
"The complaint read that there was a threat to his life because he is Mala. He also said that the wife's relatives did not want her to marry a Mala Hindu. His wife too had agreed to this," the police official said. The police had not invoked Prevention of Atrocities Act back then.
The Quint has not independently accessed the complaint copy. Nagaraju's neighbour P Maruthi insisted, "If he were of any other caste, it would not have been a problem, I think. Here the issue was that he was Mala."
After Nagaraju and Sultana got married, they did not return to the village. They settled in a rented house near Saroornagar in Hyderabad city. "The family heard nothing adverse from them. This happened to their shock," said Maruthi.
Nagaraju's family cultivates rice. "He was the one who was financially helping his parents. They just have a small piece of cultivable land," aunt Sanjeeva said. Sultana has refused to return to her family. "She wants to stay with us," Sanjeeva said.
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