By Yashica Dutt
On July 20th, nine-year-old Indra Meghwal was beaten to death by his upper-caste school teacher in the Jalore district of Rajasthan for touching a drinking water pot. Detailed in a complaint letter from the boy’s father, teacher Chail Singh taunted his son with castest insults or drinking water from an earthen pot intended for upper caste people, whilst severely assaulting him. Indra was taken from one hospital to another, his family desperately trying to keep him alive, before he succumbed to his injuries and died in Ahmedabad Civil Hospital. 1300 km, eight hospitals, 25 days.
The family have called for the school’s license to be cancelled and a fair investigation into the case, as well as initially refusing to carry out the last rites until their conditions of Rs 50 lakh and a government job for a family member as compensation. After several rounds of talks, the police said that an agreement was reached on Sunday evening and the last rites were carried out. The family are receiving compensation under the SC/ST Act.
The past summer's heatwave may have been hard on many, but the fact remains that we don't all bear the burden of thirst the same way. In a world where even the sun falls disproportionately on some brows more than others, where some have access to water, while others are killed or are killed for it; it seems that some of us are incognizant of “the caste crime statistics and indices on crimes against women, children and Dalits, on the discrimination of water scarcity and access to clean water in the state “. That we must repeat the words, like some morbid chorus:
Casteism is Real.
Casteism has Consequences.
You and I might feel thirsty, but our thirst doesn't have to contend with life-threatening harm. Nor does our need for food or shelter. But when the same act of reaching out for water means that you could be beaten, when the health care system sees you as disposable, when the legal system consistently sets you up as canon fodder for those who wish to play God, then every action becomes a source of potential threats to your life. And for those in the most vulnerable communities of society, and in particular, the Dalit community in India, every action - every step closer to shelter, food, water - these are all hinged on a very real, very existential, threat of harm.
Let me just pause here and say that we are at a loss for what else to say. Of how to make it count this time. And above all, we recognize that this is not our story to tell. So we hand the mic on to those who know. What follows below is an opinion expressed by Dalit Activist and Award-winning author Yashica Dutt on her Instagram:
Growing up Dalit anywhere isn't easy, but in Rajasthan, it can be especially toxic. The lethal combination of archaic traditions that are almost always anti-women and pro-hierarchy, and the desperate need to preserve power through caste order creates an unbearable state for Dalits to exist. The talented and innocent nine-year-old Dalit child who was beaten to death by a caste superior teacher wasn't by accident, but by design. This is truly what Rajasthan is. Not the tourism, the fairs or the food. But this. Don't let anyone tell you any different.
To anyone who has spent any amount of time in Rajasthan, this solidarity from 'upper' caste groups, asserting their right to murder Dalit children for crossing the bounds of caste won't come as a surprise.
The young boy, only 9 years old, was reaching out for water, during what has been recorded the hottest summer in India ever, in a state that is notorious for its drought-like conditions, where water isn't just a bottle you buy for a few coins but a precious asset children and women spend their days searching for.
He was killed, with complete intention, because he dared to respond to the most basic of human needs; thirst, while being Dalit. Our need to be human, to drink, eat, prosper has always been loathed by a caste order that ranks our lives as inconsequential, immaterial, unnecessary.
Rajasthan, which is content to sell its colors, its deserts, its havelis turned hotels, poverty, subservience repackaged as luxury to westerners has ALWAYS hated Dalit people, Dalit children, Dalit women. Imagine the hatred the teacher felt that he beat a child to death for touching the water vessel caste has ordained as his, that was then polluted by that child's thirst.
Is it any surprise that the entire 'upper' cast media in the state is now working overtime to defend the teacher, to prove his innocence, to maintain the invisibility of the narrative that caste doesn't matter when it always has?
Is it any surprise, that you, likely an 'upper' caste Indian reader will question, can things really be this bad? Can a teacher beat a young child to death because he needed to punish the transgression by teaching him a lesson? To put him in his place? Which is where Dalits should be left to die of thirst as the desert boils instead of daring to touch an 'upper' caste man's vessel of water?
Tell us again how natural resources, water, food, relief from brutal heat hasn't always been divided along the lines of class, access, wealth, privilege?
Tell us also how when those are rendered equal, that even within the poorest of spaces, access to food, water, shelter isn't always defined by who lies on top of the caste order?
And also tell us how it has not always been like this? That the only reason it hasn't been plain, manifest and obvious this entire time is because you chose to trust 'upper' caste media that confirmed the biases you held anyway?
Remind us why you need a Dalit child, a Dalit doctor-in training, a Dalit teen girl, a Dalit scholar to be slaughtered to believe that caste exists?
Why this unquenchable, unyielding need for proof for caste even as more of us die by it almost daily?
And perhaps also let us know, when will this end?
About the Author
Yashica Dutt is a leading anti-caste expert, journalist and award-winning author of the non-fiction memoir, Coming Out as Dalit.