For 24 days, the family of a nine-year-old Dalit boy from Rajasthan’s Jalore district took him from one hospital to another before the child breathed his last at the Ahmedabad Civil Hospital on Saturday.
The FIR in the case, registered on Saturday after Indra Kumar Meghwal’s death, says that on July 20, the child was beaten up by his upper-caste teacher for allegedly drinking water from a pot meant for the teacher.
As the child’s condition deteriorated, between July 20 and August 13, the family took the boy to hospitals in Bagoda and Bhinmal in Jalore district, Udaipur district and Gujarat’s Mehsana before finally admitting him to the Ahmedabad Civil Hospital, where he died on Saturday.
According to authorities at the Ahmedabad Civil Hospital, the child was admitted on Saturday morning and was declared dead during treatment. “The post-mortem was completed on Saturday and a viscera sample has been sent for further testing. The exact cause of death can be ascertained only after the test results come in,” said Rajnish Patel, Additional Medical Superintendent at the hospital.
The accused, Chail Singh, 40, ran a private school in Jalore’s Surana village where the child was a Class 3 student. While Singh owned the school and also taught there, he lived in a village around 30-40 km away. Singh was arrested on Saturday.
The child’s family members claim that after the incident, they were asked by the Rajputs of their village — the community to which Singh belonged — to arrive at a compromise and not go to the police.
“A few days ago, there was a gathering of around 40 people from the Rajput, Dewasi and Meghwal communities at the school. My father and I went to this gathering. The Rajputs told us not to register a case since our children still study at the school. They told us to reach a compromise with the teacher. The teacher gave us Rs 1.5 lakh in two instalments and said he was ready to pay another lakh for Indra’s treatment,” said Kishore Kumar Meghwal, the boy’s uncle and the complainant in the case.
Kishore said that when he went to confront Singh, the teacher accepted that “he has made a mistake”.
“Indra was a child, he didn’t know that the matki (earthen pot) that he drank from had been kept separately for the savarna jaati (upper caste) teacher. Indra mistakenly drank water from the matki of Chail Singh,” reads the FIR registered in the case under Section 302 (murder) of the IPC and relevant sections of the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.
With a little over a year left for Rajasthan elections, the Dalit boy’s death has put the Ashok Gehlot government on the backfoot. The Opposition has also been quick to point to a string of recent cases of Dalit atrocities.
The FIR adds that after Indra drank the water, the teacher abused him with casteist slurs and beat him up. The FIR says that as a result of the beating, the child sustained internal injuries to his right ear and eye.
The death of the boy, the youngest of three siblings, resulted in an outpouring of outrage against the Ashok Gehlot-led Congress government in the state, with Dalit rights activists criticising the government for the compensation amount of Rs 5 lakh that Gehlot announced for the victim’s family.
The child’s relatives had initially refused to carry out the last rites as they sat on a dharna in the village seeking a compensation of Rs 50 lakh and a government job for a family member. They also called for the school’s licence to be cancelled and sought a fair investigation into the case. Police said an agreement was finally reached on Sunday evening after several rounds of talks and the last rites were carried out.
Police said internet services in Jalore district would be suspended till Sunday night. Earlier, on Saturday, Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot had said that the matter has been taken up under the case officer scheme to ensure speedy investigation and justice for the aggrieved family.
“After talks with the family members, they have agreed to carry out the last rites. I am with the district collector at the village. Apart from the compensation announced by the Chief Minister, they are being given the compensation amount as per the SC/ST Act. Prima facie, it hasn’t been proven that the boy was beaten up for touching a pot of water. During our visits to the school, we found a tank from where both teachers and students drink water. However, further investigation is being conducted,” said Jalore SP Harsh Vardhan Agarwalla.
Police say they have found no prior criminal record against Singh so far.
Along with Dalit outfits and activists, the opposition BJP has also slammed the Rajasthan government over the incident.
National Commission for Protection of Child Rights Chairperson Priyank Kanungo said on Sunday that a notice was being issued to the Rajasthan government on the child’s death.
Inputs from Vaibhav Jha