One week after a 12-year-old Dalit student was severely beaten by a teacher for touching a plate “meant for non-Dalits” during the mid-day meal at his school, nothing has changed at Berdo Ka Bas panchayat in Jodhpur’s Osian block.
The teacher at the Rajkiya Ucch Madhyamik Vidyalaya here was arrested two days after the beating and is out on bail but now, Class 4 student Dinesh’s elder brother Narpat, 17, has allegedly received a death threat from local Jat youths.
“The Jats are unhappy with the action taken against the teacher, Hemaram Jat, and want his reinstatement. So their youths keep threatening us. They have threatened Narpat, saying they will keep me busy by killing him so I won’t able to pursue the case against Hemaram,” said Dinesh’s father Malaram Meghwal, a farmer.
Berdo Ka Bas has around 500 Jat and 100 Dalit families. The village has five schools of which four take in students only up to Class 8, leaving Dinesh’s school as the only option for those wishing to study up to Class 12. And it’s in this high school, allege Dalit villagers, that the discrimination is rampant.
Here, a 16-year-old Class 9 student Raju Ram told The Indian Express that he still can’t touch his classmate and best friend Deeparam Jat — Raju is a Dalit and Deeparam is a Jat, which is “like being a Brahmin”.
Ram says he “cannot touch the water bucket at school, and my Jat classmates or teachers pour water into my palm with a mug”. “In classrooms too, we have a separate seating arrangement,” said Ram. Shaitanwa Ram, 15, another Class 9 student, says the plates too, are stacked separately for Jats and Dalits — meals for Dalits are served at a distance.
More than 80 km away, Dr Rakesh Johra, who looked after Dinesh as he recovered at the Umaid hospital in Jodhpur, told The Indian Express that even though the boy was discharged on Wednesday, “we have referred him to an ENT for his ear injuries”.
Elaborating on the incident, Dinesh’s father Malaram says that “other students had prodded him to pick up a plate meant for non-Dalits”. “But as soon as he touched it, they raised a commotion after which Hemaram beat him. My son came home crying, and started vomiting,” he said.
“When I reached the school to confront them over the ‘bhed bhaav’ (discrimination), one teacher held me by the throat and Hemaram attacked me with a stick, injuring my arm,” said Malaram.
Back in the village, the horror stories continue. “Three years ago, another Dalit student in that school was beaten up by Hemaram for touching his chair and landed up in hospital for 15 days. He ultimately dropped out,” said Dheeraram, 51, whose wife was once a sarpanch here.
“If you touch their tiffin, they throw the contents to dogs,” said Togaram, 48. Dayaram, 18, from Class 10, says he was once beaten up when his hand touched a teacher’s tiffin box while he was sweeping the floor.
While Hemaram and other teachers refused to speak to The Indian Express, Anshulal, a physical education teacher who is the headmaster temporarily in charge of this school, says “there is absolutely no discrimination at the school.” “They cook up stories because we are strict,” he said.
Bhagwana Ram, a Jat who has a child in the same school, says Hemaram is “just strict”. “All children are hit, else they will be spoiled. But whenever they (the Dalit kids) are scolded, their parents make it a caste issue,” he said.
Nutan Bala Kapila, Jodhpur Deputy Director, Elementary and Secondary Education, said that an inquiry report into Dinesh’s case is expected soon. “The District Education Department had been asked to submit a report, we expect it within a couple of days,” she said.
Hemaram was arrested on October 3 after being booked under sections 323 (Punishment for voluntarily causing hurt) and 341 (Punishment for wrongful restraint) of the Indian Penal Code as well as under the SC/ST Act. He was granted bail soon after.