- A video shows the man sitting on the ground with hands and legs tied
- Another man is seen hitting him as a mob surrounds them
- Police say the incident took place over 150 km from Chennai
A 24-year-old Dalit man has died from his injuries after he was beaten up brutally by a mob comprising mostly men from a so-called upper caste community in Tamil Nadu's Villupuram this week.
A video widely shared on social media that has drawn national attention to the incident shows the man, identified as Sakthivel, sitting on the ground with hands and legs tied. A man is seen hitting Sakthivel as a mob surrounds him. A motorcycle is seen lying by the road nearby.
The police have said the incident took place on Wednesday, over 150 km from Chennai, after Sakthivel allegedly flashed a woman working on a field. The family of the victim, however, says he was targeted for defecating on a private farmland.
The police say they arrived at the scene to find him tied up and bleeding from the mouth. They alerted the family of Sakthivel who refused to take him to a hospital and took him home instead. He died there shortly after.
Sakthivel's sister has told local reporters that he had an upset stomach and that his bike had run out of fuel. He had to go to the fields to relieve himself and he was attacked as he was a Dalit, she alleged.
Seven people including three women have been arrested for murder and have been charged under the law that protects so-called lower castes. The state government has given out a compensation of around Rs 4 lakh to Sakthivel's family.
The police, however, have ruled out a caste angle. "It appears the mob had no idea about his caste when they attacked him. We are investigating. The other party had first given a complaint against him," Jayakumar, a senior police officer in Villupuram told NDTV.
The police officer also added that Sakthivel had earlier faced allegations of raping an underage girl but was acquitted following a settlement with her family.
However, those arrested for Sakthivel's death belong to the dominant Vanniyar community which is largely known to be hostile towards Dalit communities.
S Ramadoss, chief of Tamil Nadu's Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) party who is seen as the face of the Vanniyar community, has often blamed young Dalit men of luring Vanniyar women by "sporting jeans and sunglasses".
He had also called inter-caste marriages between Dalit and Vanniyar couples as staged weddings by the "lower-caste" community.
There have been instances of Dalit men marrying Vanniyar women found dead amid reports of caste-driven motives.
Discrimination on the basis of caste is illegal but still common especially in rural areas where much of India still resides.
Poor sanitation that forces people to defecate outdoors is one of India's biggest health issues, and its eradication has been a top priority for the central government which claims to have eradicated open defecation completely.