A little boy’s garlanded photo, surrounded by his grieving family at his home in Rajasthan, illustrates the unspeakable tragedy of caste discrimination in parts of the country.
On July 20, the nine-year-old Dalit boy in Rajasthan’s Jalore, a Class 3 student, made the “mistake” of drinking from a pitcher meant for upper castes. His teacher thrashed him for touching the pitcher, so badly that he was left practically immobile, with severe wounds in his eye and ear.
“We found out at 4 pm. His limbs were not working,” said his uncle at the Surana village around 250 km from Jodhpur.
“We took him to seven hospitals, but no one could treat him. We finally took him to Ahmedabad, where he died on August 13,” he told NDTV.
The final count was seven hospitals across five cities over 15 days.
The family claims they wanted to wait until all relatives arrived, but the state administration forced them into a quick funeral. “We were lathi-charged, we were injured,” said the uncle.
The family is now fighting what it calls a lie put out by the school, that the boy was beaten because he was fighting with a classmate.
“The headmaster is wrong. There was no fight between boys – it was only about the matka (water pitcher). They (the school) are obviously under pressure from the Thakurs (upper castes). They say he had a previous ear injury. That’s a lie,” said the boy’s relative.
The school where the incident took place can barely be called one, because it has classrooms. There are no tables or chairs. Students sit on the bare floor.
Suresh Kumar, who is the new in-charge, insists that what went down was completely unrelated to caste. Two boys were fighting over a book, he claims, and the headmaster, Shail Singh, beat both.
School officials point towards a large water tank that they claim every student drinks from. There is no separate pitcher for anybody, they claim.
A closer look reveals fresh cement around the taps on the water tank, hinting that these were recently installed.
Suresh Kumar also claims that there are four Dalit teachers in the school, and that there is no divide. Despite those words, it is evident that the upper castes – there are more of them in the village – are dominant in the area.
The boy’s death has triggered a political crisis for Rajasthan’s Congress government led by Ashok Gehlot.
Mr Gehlot has promised tough action, announced Rs 20 lakh compensation and free education for two other children in the family.