Amreli- In a grim reminder of India's persistent casteism, a tragic incident has unfolded in the western state of Gujarat. A Dalit principal of a government school in the Amreli district attempted suicide on October 20.
Kanti Chauhan, the Principal of a government school in Juna Janjariya village of Bagasara taluka in Amreli district, succumbed after consuming poison. Kanti told his wife that he had consumed poison after which he was rushed to a nearby hospital. The principal was then referred to Junagadh civil hospital, where he died during his treatment. Before committing suicide, the principal circulated a video message blaming five people including three teachers and the sarpanch for heaping insults on him over his caste.
The next day members from Dalit community and organisations gathered outside Bagasara police station to demand justice. They demanded immediate arrests of the accused persons and refused to claim the body. Only upon receiving the police's assurance of bringing the perpetrators to justice did the grieving community finally agree to accept the deceased's body.
Kanti Chauhan’s family are laborers. It was only he who was able to get out of the shackles of manual work and get employed in the organized sector. His wife is a homemaker.
Chauhan had recorded a video of himself before consuming poison. In the suicide video, he blamed the Sarpanch and said, “Sarpanch has been threatening and asking me to hand over the grants which I had received. He [Sarpanch] also circulated a defamatory message about me and my caste in social media groups of villagers.” Chauhan added, “I come from a lower caste. I teach students. You [Sarpanch] are attempting to defame us using our caste as a weapon, which is disgraceful for you holding the Sarpanch post.”
According to Chauhan’s allegation, he was “pressured to divert the grant dispersed by the state government through SMC (School Management Committee) for the development work of the school and use it for other purposes.”
“We have registered a case under section 306 [abetment of suicide] of the IPC and various sections of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act,” J. P. Bhandari, Deputy Superintendent of Police in Amreli, informed the media. The case has been booked against sarpanch Mukesh Borisagar, three teachers - Ranjan Lathiya, Hansa Tank, and Bhavna - and another person named Vipul Kyada.
The Mooknayak spoke to Ramesh Maru of Swayam Sainik Dal (SSD) an organisation of volunteers working towards spreading Baba Saheb Ambedkar’s philosophies. Ramesh reiterated that Kanti was under a lot of mental stress due to the pressure from different groups. He said, “Kanti Chauhan was an honest person. He was simply working for the greater good, but the casteist people did not let him do so. They would keep demanding money from the school committee, which forced him to take this drastic step.”
Ramesh further claimed that Kanti’s position as the principal also led to an unpleasant relations between him and other teachers. The activist alleged, “Before him, there was a lady teacher who was the principal of the school. But according to seniority, Kanti should have held the post. The government stepped in, demoting the teacher and making him the principal in place of her. This led to him being tortured by her and other teachers, stating they would frame legal charges against him.”
On being asked if casteism was prevalent in the district of Amreli, the Dalit activist responded sympathetically. In a pessimistic tone, Ramesh said, "Not just Amreli, it is the whole country which has casteism. This bad thought regarding the lower castes has spread so much in this nation that one cannot even imagine the repercussions. I have never seen such intense hatred which I am observing these days. Amreli has casteism; there is no doubt in that. But do not think that other towns and villages have it easy.”
Kanti is survived by his wife and a 21-year-old son. “The community members have also demanded that Kanti’s son gets a government job. He should get paid on the same lines as his late father. We ideally would want to demand the end of caste-based discrimination, but no one sees that happening anytime soon,” the SSD member said.
Recently, The Mooknayak has published a series of reports highlighting a concerning surge in crimes and violence targeting Dalit communities across the nation. According to a report from the Citizen’s Vigilance and Monitoring Committee, incidents of atrocities against Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) have been steadily increasing since 2016. In 2016, reported crimes against Dalits numbered 40,801, a number that soared to 50,900 by 2021, marking an alarming increase of over ten thousand reported cases in just six years. This report also determined a disturbingly high recorded crime rate of 29.5 for atrocities against SC individuals within the state of Gujarat.