Huddled inside a corner of a room, some women hide and stifle their tears, as they lash out at the lies and concocted stories of the authorities of Saraswati School in Surana village, in Rajasthan’s Jalore district, where a nine-year-old Dalit student, Inder Meghwal, died after being thrashed by an upper caste headmaster, Chhail Singh, for drinking from a pot kept for him. The Meghwal community members say the school is in complete denial of the incident while trying to cover it up and washing its hands of the entire affair. Their mourning is tinged with angst.
Inder’s father Devaram Meghwal said, “My child is a victim of caste crime. We, Dalit community members, are not able to live freely in this village.” “We have been discriminated against and have to face untouchability. We can’t enter an upper caste house in the village. I want justice for my child,” he added.
The New Indian visited the school where the Dalit child was grievously injured after the beating by the headmaster and later succumbed to his injuries. The headmaster is now under arrest. And even as the school authorities have gone on the back foot, their subdued defence raises many hackles.
The New Indian also visited Inder’s house, where the wailing of a grieving mother, Pawani Devi, rent the air. Sitting around his photograph, Inder’s relatives and Meghwal community members refused to buy what the school staff was selling.
Denying the claims made by school staff, Gopal Parmad, a relative of Inder, said, “He never had any problem in his ear. It is because of the severe beating by the school headmaster that we lost our child.” “Is it a crime to drink water from the pot? This is just a way to divert the issue and save the culprit,” he added.
Parmad said that they are demanding financial support for the family as well as a government job for the father. “We had spent more than ₹20 lakh on the treatment of the child. We are expecting monetary support from the government as well as a government job for the father,” Parmad said.
However, the school staff rejected any caste angle behind the incident that caused the death of the young Inder in the abode of the goddess of learning, Saraswati. According to the staff, there is no separate water pot in the school and everyone drinks from the tank.
Ashok Kumar, a teacher at the school, said, “This is a false allegation. I belong to the SC (scheduled caste) community, and we all drink water from the common water tank in the school. There is no separate water pot. I have been working here for three years and have never faced any discrimination from the headmaster.”
Surprisingly, five out of seven teachers in the school belong to SC, scheduled tribe (ST) or other backward class (OBC) communities. The cook at the school, Mawa Ram Bheel, a person from the ST community, refuted the claim of a separate water tap and said in the last two months of his service, he has cooked food which was eaten by headmaster Singh.
There are 350 students in the school studying until class 8th. Two elder brothers of Inder studied at the same school. The school staff said that they never complained about caste discrimination.
Alleging that Inder was suffering from health issues, Ajman Ram Bheel, a teacher at the school, said, “Inder had some ear infection for which he was taking treatment. Many times, Inder complained of pus and pain in his ear.” The school staff further alleged that it was a fight between two kids for which the headmaster slapped both the children, but Inder’s condition aggravated as he was already not well.
On Tuesday, minister of women and child development Mamta Bhupesh, Congress leader Sachin Pilot, and the party’s state chief, Govind Singh Dotasra, visited the family. Union Minister of state for parliamentary affairs Arjun Ram Meghwal also visited the family members.
Assuring that the administration and police are doing their best, Jalore district collector Nishant Jain said, “We have arrested the accused under Section 302 IPC. We have deployed a police force to keep the area under control. There has been no negligence on the part of the administration and we will keep doing our work.”