Past the Tricolour fluttering outside roadside tea stalls, past animated groups of children returning home after the August 15 celebrations in their schools, is the tin-roof house of Dewaram Meghwal, marked by the long wails of women that pierce the morning air.
It has only been hours since Dewaram carried out the last rites of his son Indra, who died in an Ahmedabad hospital on August 13, days after the nine-year-old was beaten up by his upper-caste teacher, allegedly for drinking water from a pot meant for the teacher.
Dewaram sits outside his house in Surana village, in Rajasthan’s Jalore district, staring blankly at the mourners as they gather around a garlanded photo of Indra that’s placed on a plastic chair.
While police have maintained that their investigation so far hasn’t revealed any caste angle to Indra’s death, the family of the Dalit boy insist that the assault by the teacher on July 20 was provoked by the child’s lower caste.
On Monday, the family found support from Congress MLA and Rajasthan Commission for Scheduled Caste Chairman Khiladi Lal Bairwa, who hit out at his own government over the death of the boy and rubbished police’s claim that they had found no caste angle so far.
As the issue snowballed, Congress MLA from Baran-Atru, Pana Chand Meghwal, on Monday submitted his resignation to Assembly Speaker C P Joshi and Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, saying he was “hurt at the constant atrocities being committed upon Dalits and the marginalised, even after 75 years of Independence”.
Chail Singh, the accused teacher, was arrested on Saturday, the day the child died, with the FIR accusing him of beating up Indra and abusing him with casteist slurs after the boy drank from the drinking water pot meant for the teacher.
“My nephew died because of his caste. Dalits face inhuman treatment in our region. Even today, we have to go several kilometres to find barbers who can cut our hair. Ever since we registered the FIR, we have been living in fear for our own safety,” said Kishore Kumar Meghwal, Indra’s uncle and the complainant in the case.
Indra’s elder brother, a student of Class 5 in the same school, seconded the family version.
Around four kilometres from the Meghwals’ house is the single-storey school building where Indra studied. A Tricolour hoisted on a bamboo pole flutters inside the compound. Locals say Chail Singh, the accused teacher, had been running the school for nearly two decades and had rented the building from a Rajput family.
On Monday, Jalore SP Harsh Vardhan Agarwalla and his team recorded the statements of several students of the school, including those who were present on July 20, when the incident happened.
“We are investigating the allegation that the boy was beaten up because he drank from a certain pot, and are also interrogating people from the school. But our preliminary investigation hasn’t proved this allegation,” said SP Agarwalla.
Indra’s classmate, whose name is being withheld for reasons of privacy, told The Indian Express that on July 20, Indra and he had an argument over a piece of paper and that Singh slapped both of them.
Singh, the accused teacher and owner of the school, has also found support from his staff, who say that no drinking water pot was kept in the building.
“I can’t say what exactly took place on July 20. However, most of the staff in this school are from SC/ST communities and we have never been discriminated against. Nobody here drinks from any matki (pot); students and teachers drink water from a tank inside the school compound,” claimed Ashok Jeengar, a teacher from the school, who is from the Dalit community.
Indra’s family, however, alleged that the Dalit teachers of the school were under pressure and had no option but to back Singh, their employer.
According to Himmat Charan, the investigating officer in the case, of the eight teaching staff in the school, three are from the Scheduled Castes, two from the Scheduled Tribes, one from the OBC category and two others, including Singh, Rajputs.
“The school is owned by Singh through a private trust and was started in 2005. There are 344 students in its Classes 1-8, of whom 54 study under the RTE Act. It is one of three private schools in Surana,” said Shriram Godara, District Education Officer, Jalore.
Bairwa, the Rajasthan SC Commission chairman who visited the family on Monday, said, “The police’s factual report that was sent to us said there was no caste angle. But after talking to people here, I know that is the reason… If police are trying to suppress the motive, I will recommend the suspension of the entire police station.”
Bairwa, who is Congress MLA from Baseri in Dholpur, also hit out at his party-led government for declaring a compensation amount of Rs 5 lakh for Indra’s family and demanded Rs 50 lakh and government jobs to two members of the victim’s family.
The local Rajput community on Monday submitted a memorandum to the SP, demanding a fair investigation in the matter.