Protests in front of Bangalore Town Hall
On the 28th of March, Delta Meghwal, a 17 year old student pursuing a BSTC at Jain Adarsh Teacher Training Institute for Girls in Bikaner, Rajasthan called her father to tell him that she had been raped. The warden of her hostel, Priya Shukla, had instructed her to clean the PT teacher Vijendra Singh’s room. Singh raped her, and then she, along with Singh, was also forced to sign a document stating that the incident was a result of ‘mutual consent’. Next morning, her body was found in a water tank nearby, and hauled away in a garbage truck. No evidence recorded, no reports filed.
Delta’s parents filed an FIR, but the institute, desperate to trivialise the issue, presented the document she had been forced to sign. They claim that she took her own life by drowning herself in the water tank. However, the post-mortem report indicates that there was no water in her lungs. This makes suicide an unlikely possibility.
The national media has been strangely silent over this issue. Activists and concerned members of civil society are asking whether this is because Delta Meghwal was a Dalit. Why had she, a fees paying student of the Jain Adarsh Teacher Training Institute for Girls been instructed to provide unpaid labour?
This is a common trend found in many regions in the country. In 2015, the NGO Bharat Bal Vigyan Samiti conducted a survey on the instructions of the Rajasthan High Court. They found that in many of the 138 schools under the 10 education blocks in Jaipur, female students from the Scheduled Castes are made to clean toilets in the absence of professional sweepers. According to the report, “These children face discrimination because they belong to the SC communities, thereby reinforcing the evil of untouchability and caste roles of traditional societies.” Seventeen Dalit students of Hindu High School at Keezhapaththai Pandithankurichi were made to clean the school toilets in 2015, leading to the arrest of the teachers responsible for the incident.
Delta Meghwal was not only forced to clean the PT Teacher’s room, but was also denied the right to maintain her bodily autonomy. On the 4th of April, Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union staged a protest against this injustice outside Bikaner House in New Delhi. A delegation comprising of four people met with the Resident Commissioner. They submitted a letter demanding the arrest of the culprits. National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW), All India Dalit Mahila Adhikar Manch and other organisations arranged for a gathering outside the District Collectorate in Barmar on the 5th of April.
Activists are asking why the institute authorities did not inform the police about this supposedly “consensual” act between the PT teacher and Delta, who was a minor. The removal of her body in a garbage truck may indicate an attempt to hush-up the incident on part of the authorities.
As of now, the PT Teacher Vijendra Singh has been arrested in relation to this case, according to a PTI report.
Delta Meghwal’s rape and murder follows the suicide of University of Hyderabad scholar Rohith Vemula’s suicide. Vemula’s death became national news, spurring protests across the country. The reason behind his suicide was the discrimination he faced from the University authorities, on account of being a Dalit. On Saturday, the second of April, three Dalit teens in Chittorgarh were thrashed and beaten by a mob for allegedly stealing a motorbike belonging to an upper caste man. A witness filmed a video of the incident that has now gone viral on social media. The boys were stripped and then paraded naked, but no one intervened.
These disturbing incidents throw light on India’s continuing prejudice towards Dalits. A large section of the privileged middle or upper classes are of the opinion that due to the government’s reservation policies, Dalits and other lower castes now have the upper hand in terms of education and professional opportunities. However, the truth remains that most Dalits in different areas of the country continue to face discrimination, exclusion and violence on account of their caste. The situation is even worse when one is a Dalit woman, who is likely to be taken advantage of in every way, and endure the most brutal forms of aggression.