Jalore: Days after a nine-year-old Dalit boy from Rajasthan’s Jalore district died after his ‘upper-caste’ school principal allegedly hit him for drinking water out of a clay pot meant for the principal, questions are being raised and doubts expressed about the allegations that caste discrimination had led to the tragedy.
The incident allegedly occurred on 20 July at Saraswati Vidya Mandir, a private school in Surana village. The boy, Inder Meghwal, died weeks later, on 13 August, while he was in critical medical care in Ahmedabad. After this, the principal, Chail Singh, was arrested on murder charges as well as under sections of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. The police investigation is ongoing.
The child’s family have accused the police of attempting a cover-up. But, as reported by ThePrint earlier, doubts have been raised about the caste angle and the claim that Chail Singh kept a separate pot to drink from.
According to Inder’s classmate Rajesh Kumar, the two boys had been fighting over a copy of Chitrakatha, a children’s comic book, when Chail Singh reprimanded them, and slapped them both for being unruly.
“He gave us both a tapli (light slap) and tore the Chitrakatha,” he told ThePrint.
Inder went home after school that day, and never returned after that, Rajesh said.
No separate pot
Several children gathered at the school premises also said that everyone — teachers and students, irrespective of caste — drank from one water tank.
The school has five Dalit teachers, all of whom had been taken in for questioning when ThePrint reached Surana. Ashok Kumar Jhingar, one of the teachers, spoke to ThePrint over the phone.
“I don’t know why Chail Singh hit the child. But I know he has never kept a separate matka (earthen pot) in the school for drinking water. All of us drank from the same water tank.”
Meanwhile, residents of the village across several castes have come together to deny the Meghwal family’s allegations.
Sukhraj Jhingar — who has also been running a private school nearby for the past six years — said that Chail Singh had been running the school for 18 years without any incident.
“I know Chail Singh very well; our schools are right next to each other, so he would keep visiting us. We live like brothers,” he said. Jhingar, who is also a Dalit, added that Singh eats and drinks with them. “He drinks water from the same tank,” he said.
Mahendra Kumar Jhingar, who runs a private school called Kripachari Public School, also said that he has known Chail Singh for many years and there has never been an incident of caste-based discrimination.
Inder had been studying in the school for three years, he added, without any such incident.
According to Jhingar, the school fees range from Rs 3,200 to Rs 3,800 per year.
In an earlier interview with ThePrint, members of an association of private school owners in Jalore district had claimed that while it was possible that Chail Singh may have hit the child, the caste angle was fabricated.
“If a private school discriminates on the basis of caste, they won’t be able to run the school,” said association member Sukhram Khokhar.
ThePrint also met Mangal Singh, cousin of Chail Singh, who was at Surana village. He said Chail Singh was the only earning member of the family.
“His wife is hospitalised because of an accident involving an electric shock. His father is undergoing mental health treatment and his mother is a cancer patient. He would travel about 50 km by bus everyday,” Mangal Singh told ThePrint.
“He has been working here for 18 years. He has never discriminated based on caste.”
Presence of a chronic ear infection
Meanwhile, multiple sources told ThePrint that Inder had been suffering from a persistent ear infection for a long time.
A local practitioner of “traditional medicine” with no formal training, Devi Kumari, told ThePrint that the parents had brought the child to her for a pain in the ear a month and a half ago — long before the reported incident. However, Kumari was not able to diagnose the child, and advised the parents to take Inder to a hospital.
After the incident, the child was taken to a number of hospitals for treatment. One of the doctors who treated him said that medical records pertaining to Inder’s treatment for the ear infection dated back to 2017.
The doctor explained that a fatal injury to the head is usually caused by an internal haemorrhage as a result of an impact. In such cases, a child is unlikely to survive as long as Inder did.
“My diagnosis was septicemia. His white blood cell count was very high,” the doctor said.
Septicemia, or sepsis, is the clinical name for blood poisoning by bacteria. It is the body’s most extreme response to an infection.
According to highly-placed sources in the Civil Hospital, Ahmedabad, where Inder lost his life, he was suffering from chronic suppurative otitis media (CSOM) — a common childhood infectious disease and a leading cause of hearing impairment in resource-limited settings.
It is characterised by chronic drainage from the middle ear. Locals had earlier told ThePrint that the child used to go to school with a piece of cotton stuffed into his right ear.
Moreover, when Inder was brought to the hospital, there were no injury marks on the body to establish that he had been beaten up, the source said.
The visible swelling in the child’s right eye was also a complication of the disorder, known as a retrobulbar block, or an internal blockage in the back of the eye due to the formation of an abscess. An abscess is a confined pocket of pus that collects in tissues, organs or spaces inside the body. An abscess is characterised by a painful, swollen lump that’s filled with pus.
ThePrint accessed MRI reports of Inder from between 31 July and 5 August, from various hospitals and imaging centres where the boy was taken.
These include Sarvodaya Imaging Centre in Mehsana, Sreeji Imaging Centre in Deesa — both in Gujarat — and Geetanjali Medical College and Hospital in Udaipur, Rajasthan.
None of the reports find a brain haemorrhage. Instead, they mention ‘acute infarcts’, which are caused by disrupted blood supply and restricted supply of oxygen, most commonly as a result of thromboembolism — or obstruction of a blood vessel.
Can external trauma — such as a slap as reported by the family — exacerbate a CSOM condition and lead to death? According to doctors who handled the case, it’s likely to be a coincidence, and the child’s condition had been deteriorating after years of the condition remaining untreated.
Local caste politics
Villagers across different castes have gathered around this issue and allege that the Bhim Sena, an Ambedkarite organisation, had been trying to stir up tensions in their village for the past five months.
An audio recording of a conversation — purportedly between the victim’s father Devaram Meghwal and a Bhim Sena leader on 13 August — mentions giving the tragedy a political twist. ThePrint has accessed the recording but could not verify its authenticity. Shortly after the clip was circulated on Whatsapp groups, internet services were suspended in the region.
On 14 August, when Inder’s body was brought from Ahmedabad to his home, activists had gathered crowds from the surrounding villages. ThePrint was on the spot and witnessed groups of people with Bhim Sena banners gathering from nearby villages at Meghwal’s house.
Through the afternoon, with Inder’s body lying in the house, the crowds, led by the child’s father and his maternal uncle Kishore Kumar Meghwal, began bargaining with the police personnel present, including Jalore Additional Superintendent of Police Anukriti Ujjainia, for compensation of Rs 50 lakhs and government jobs for family members. They refused to carry out the child’s last rites unless their demands were met.
When ThePrint asked Kheemaram, Inder’s paternal uncle, to identify the people who were raising slogans, giving speeches and making these demands, he was unable to identify them, and said they were all making different demands on their own.
(Edited by Rohan Manoj)