Jalore: Away from the glare of the media, police personnel and the political attention that the Surana village in Rajasthan’s Jalore district has been receiving, Suki Kanwar sits in shock.
She is the wife of Chail Singh, 40, the ‘upper-caste’ school principal accused in the death of a 9-year-old Dalit boy, Inder Meghwal, from Jalore. Ever since his arrest, she has been suffering from what appear to be bouts of seizures.
“Tension mein usko mata aati rehti hai (she is experiencing stress-induced seizures),” said Chail Singh’s cousin Mangal Singh as Suki suddenly faints in the middle of a conversation with ThePrint.
It’s been nearly a week since Singh’s arrest.
The principal is accused of fatally hitting Inder for drinking out of a matka (clay pot) meant for him, and the boy’s family has alleged a casteist motive to the incident.
The incident — of Singh hitting Inder — allegedly occurred on 20 July at Saraswati Vidya Mandir, a private school in Surana. The boy died on 13 August while under critical medical care in Ahmedabad.
Chail Singh was arrested the same day 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.
However, the caste angle has come under question in light of statements made by local residents.
Questions have also arisen about the cause of the boy’s death, in light of findings that Inder Meghwal had been undergoing treatment for a middle ear infection for several years, which caused the formation of a painful abscess behind his eye, blockages in the brain, and eventually triggered sepsis in the days leading up to his death.
Singh’s family denies the caste angle too, saying the principal “made a mistake by paying the Meghwals money for Inder’s treatment”.
The Meghwal family had earlier told ThePrint that Chail Singh paid them Rs 1.5 lakh as a “settlement”.
Denying this allegation, Chail Singh’s father Ushk Singh, 70, said, “Usne paise dekar galti kar di (he made a mistake by giving them money).”
“The transaction is now being called ‘hush money’. It was nothing like that. He was concerned about having accidentally hurt the child,” he added.
None of the family members knows how Singh managed to give such a large sum to the Meghwals. “He must have given it out of the school funds,” added Ushk Singh.
Singh also owns agricultural land along with his three brothers and is involved in farming.
Kheta Ram Bhil, a hired hand who has been working on Chail Singh’s land for nearly five years, was present at the Singhs’ house when ThePrint visited.
Bhil said he had never faced any discrimination at Chail Singh’s hands. “He has eaten with me and invited me into his home. We drank water together in the fields,” he added.
Chail Singh’s sons — Laxman, 14, and Gopal, 10 — who are also students at Saraswati Vidya Mandir, also told ThePrint that everyone in the school drank from the same water tank.
Chail Singh is currently lodged at the Sayla police station. According to highly placed sources in the district administration, the police are still waiting for the results of the histopathological analysis of the autopsy report to understand the cause of Inder’s death.
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Singh’s family lives in a run-down house located over 50 kilometres away from Surana. Ideally, the journey should not take more than two hours, but navigating around the water-logged potholes and stray cattle on narrow, broken roads lined with thorny shrubs can take up to five hours.
To get to Surana, Singh needed to walk about six to seven kilometres to get a bus. To avoid the hassle of daily travel, Singh, along with his two sons, lived on the school premises.
“He would come home once every two weeks. The day he was arrested, he was on his way back home with his children. He was arrested midway and we had no information about it,” said Mangal Singh.
With their primary breadwinner under arrest, the family has no idea what to expect in the coming days. Chail Singh earned a monthly salary of about Rs 10,000 to Rs 15,000, they said.
The family was in the process of constructing an additional pukka premises in their compound after the existing structure was damaged by rain, but with Chail Singh under arrest, the construction has come to a standstill.
His mother, 60-year-old Dariya Kanwar, is currently undergoing tests for suspected colon cancer, while Ushk Singh is being treated for stomach ulcers, added Mangal Singh, who claimed to be under medication for mental health issues.
“No one has come to meet us yet,” he said. “Not the police, nor the media.”
(Edited by Zinnia Ray Chaudhuri)
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