On August 13 last year, a nine-year-old Dalit boy died in Surana village, located in Saila tehsil in Jalore district of Rajasthan. Indra Meghwal’s family said he had been assaulted by his school teacher after he touched a pot of water designated for “upper castes”.
There was shock, outrage, protests and demonstrations. Rajasthan’s Congress government promised aid and an investigation. The teacher, Chhail Singh, was swiftly arrested.
But this is rare in Rajasthan – not the crime but the movement of state machinery.
According to data from the Rajasthan police, 56,879 cases were registered between 2017 and 2023 under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. Crimes against Dalits and Adivasis have increased at an average rate of 22 percent from 2018 to 2022. Meanwhile, the conviction rate was 22.38 percent in 2022 against 27.49 percent in 2020.
Out of the 56,879 caste crime cases, the police registered final reports in only 26,801 of them – about 47 percent. Chargesheets were submitted to courts in just 25,762 cases.
Importantly, a number of cases also go unreported, so the actual figures may be much higher.
But why is there such a mismatch?
The Mooknayak and Newslaundry travelled across Rajasthan to investigate the status of three crimes committed against Dalits and Adivasis that made national headlines.
Saila town is located on the Barmer highway that connects Delhi and Ajmer. Surana village is about 25 km off the highway, marked by a makeshift police outpost and a Rajiv Gandhi Seva Kendra office. At a kirana shop a little way ahead, we asked for directions to meet Devaram, Indra’s father.
The shopkeeper obligingly pointed us towards the road leading into the village. Devaram’s two-room pucca house was located a quarter km away. To the left of the house was a tin shed housing a table with photos of Dalit-Bahujan social reformers. Pictures of Indra covered the walls.
We were stopped by a police constable deployed for security purposes. He took down our names and contact details, asked why we were meeting the family, and telephoned his superiors to keep them informed.
Meanwhile, Devaram lay on a charpoy. He said his family had built the house in the village’s outer farms after Indra died.
“Out of a population of 8,000 here, 1,700 families are Bhomiya Rajputs,” he said. “The accused Chhail Singh is also from the Bhomiya Rajput community.”
Singh was released on bail on August 19 this year, almost exactly a year after Indra’s death. Devaram said he will file an application at the high court to cancel bail. “I will fight to the end to get justice for Indra,” he said.
He then called to his wife, Pawani Devi, who was busy with household chores. She led us into a room where Indra’s books and possessions were arranged. She picked up a photo of her son and wept.
“I miss Indra a lot,” she said. “He used to go to school every day. He would help with household chores after returning. When I see his books, photos and clothes, I feel immense grief. I am unable to sleep at night. I cry a lot.”
The family has lived in Surana for 20 years. Pawani said, “Earlier, they did not even give us household provisions in the village due to caste discrimination. There is police protection now so we get rations. It’s not easy to go into the village alone. We visit homes of the Meghwal community, not any other community. We are distressed. My son should get justice.”
Devaram wants to install a pot – gifted to him by a group of Dalit women from Gujarat – near his house as a symbol of untouchability and of his son’s death. But upper-caste villagers pushed back, he said, so it’s now been kept in the family’s former house on the other end of the village.
“After Indra’s death, his body was brought to this old house,” Indra’s uncle Kishor Kumar said. “All the rituals were conducted in this house which is why the villagers insisted that the pot be kept here. We wanted to keep it in our new home, on our land near the road, so people can see it. The administration aids influential people of the village in this matter.”
Lakshma Kanwar, the village sarpanch, rejected these allegations. “The victim’s family can put the pot anywhere they want on their land,” she said. “No such pressure from anyone is on them.”
Ratan Devasi, the DSP of Jalore, also said no oral or written complaints have been filed with respect to threats on installing the pot.
But Kishor said he’s not happy with the police’s investigation into Indra’s death. “Many people from the Bhomiya community have been made witnesses,” he said. “People will only give statements in favour of the accused.”
He has faith in the courts, he added, even though he worries that “false statements” have made their way to the chargesheet, filed in December last year.
Praveen Kumar Bhadroo, the family’s lawyer, reiterated what Kishor said.
“The police did not include the fact that Indra touched the pot in their chargesheet,” he said. “Two theories for Indra’s injuries have been presented by eyewitness accounts – one in which Indra was slapped by the accused teacher and the other in which Indra and his peers got into a fight.”
He added, “The case is under trial at the Jalore SC/ST court. Judge Piyush Chaudhary passed an order for continuous hearings from February 20, 2023 so the hearing of the case is quick. But the defendant’s advocate got a stay order from the Rajasthan High Court on February 16.”
As a result, the pace of hearings has slowed. The police named 78 witnesses in their chargesheet but the statements of only eight have been presented in court so far. Bhadroo said the court still hasn’t heard statements from the plaintiffs.
He also added that the family will challenge Chhail Singh’s bail. “He has begun teaching against a private school in Surana. We tried talking to him but he refused to talk to us.”
Upper-caste residents of Surana insisted that the “pot touching” story is false. For instance, Aayidan Singh, a Bhomiya Rajput, claimed Indra was hurt after a “fight” between two children. He had “already been unwell” and so he died soon after.
Teachers at the school refused to talk to this reporter.
On March 15, 2022, 28-year-old Jitendra Meghwal was stabbed in Barwa village in Pali for allegedly aspiring to a lifestyle similar to upper castes. His family that Jitendra was frequently asked why he had a moustache.
Two men – Suraj Singh and Ramesh Singh Rajpurohit – were arrested from Barwa in connection with Jitendra’s murder. The police the murder was due to “personal rivalry”. Both Suraj and Ramesh are presently in judicial custody.
Jitendra’s family left the village soon after. We asked a neighbour, Narayan Lala Sarel, about what had happened.
Sarel was visibly uncomfortable with the question and nervous that someone would spot him talking to the media. He ushered us into his house and then said, “There has been peace in the village after a police outpost was set up following Jitendra’s murder. But caste discrimination hasn’t reduced.”
There are 1,500 families in Barwa, Sarel said, of which 1,100 are Rajpurohits, or Brahmins, and 250 are Meghwals.
“No Meghwal in the village has farmable land,” Sarel said. “After the incident, Rajpurohits stopped giving work to Dalits on their land. There was a time when Dalits depended on Rajpurohits for daily bread. They would work on their farms and tolerate caste discrimination. They would often not get wages even after 15-20 days of work. Now when we don’t get work on their land, we go to nearby towns for work.”
When we posed this question to the village sarpanch, her husband Chandan Singh insisted that Rajpurohits have now resumed giving work to Dalits. He also blamed the murder on a “personal feud”, though he said it was “wrongful”, and said theories of “caste enmity” had worsened the situation in the village.
From Sarel’s home, we visited Dalit households in a nearby hathai or chowk. Everyone grew uneasy when we mentioned Jitendra’s name.
“There is peace in the village now after the outpost was set up...They [the Rajpurohits] are fine. We are busy,” said one.
The famed outpost in Barwa had two police officers on duty. We asked them why Jitendra’s family had left if the village is now safe. They did not respond.
Jitendra’s family now lives in Ambedkar Nagar in Bali tehsil – his brother Omprakash with three sisters and their parents. Why did they leave Barwa?
“There’s a crossroads right in front of our home in the village, where buses and other vehicles stop,” he said. “The perpetrators would often camp there. We would get uncomfortable because of that. There were also memories of Jitendra in that house; my mother and sisters would get emotional and upset. That is why we decided to leave the village.”
After Jitendra’s death, the district collector and other authorities had told the family they would receive a government job and Rs 50 lakh as compensation, Omprakash said.
“When ministers Govindram Meghwal and Tikaram Jully visited our home in Barwa, they also assured us of it,” he said. “But more than a year and a half has passed and nothing has happened except the arrests.”
The family’s lawyer Kanaram Solanki said the case is under trial at Pali’s SC/ST special court. The police have listed 40 witnesses in the chargesheet; the testimonies of just two have been presented in court so far. Ramesh Rajpurohit’s bail plea was recently rejected by the Rajasthan High Court.
In September, The Mooknayak had on a Rajasthan family’s nine-month battle for justice. This is the story of Kartik Bhil, an Adivasi social activist from Sheoganj tehsil, who was assaulted on November 19, 2022. He had been on his way home after meeting with local cops to assist an Adivasi family when he was attacked by persons unknown. He died from his injuries on December 1.
Before his death, Kartik had recorded a video accusing a local MLA, Sanyam Lodha, of organising the attack on him.
At the centre of the issue is a plot of land in Sheoganj. Some Bhil families, including Kartik’s, live here alongside other families from the Jain community.
The Bhil families have asked for a lease document for the land from the municipality since 2000, but the document is still unsigned by authorities.
“The local MLA is from the Jain community. This is why we’re not being given a lease whereas our neighbouring Jain families get leases easily,” alleged Kartik’s brother Praveen Kumar Bhil. “This is being done because of caste discrimination. We are from the Adivasi community. My brother Kartik struggled against this discrimination. This is why he was murdered.”
Kartik’s family claim they tried to file a complaint at Baluth police station but the police refused to do so. A case was later filed on the basis of a complaint from Ruparam Bhil, a member of the family whom Kartik had gone to help. It included murder charges.
Daula Ram, an officer at Baluth police station, told this reporter that cases have been registered against Rajuram, Pravin, Dheparam, Bharam Mali, and four unknowns – a total of eight accused.
But since December 2022, Kartik’s family has been protesting outside the collectorate at Sirohi district headquarters. They allege the MLA was not named in the FIR, and that the police had refused to register the family’s complaint. Kartik’s father Kapura Ram said the family wants the CBI to take over the investigation.
The family has also asked for monetary compensation and a government job. They also want to finally receive the lease for the land in Sheoganj.
District collector Dr Bhanwar Lal told this reporter that the land in question is “registered as a thoroughfare in revenue records”.
“We suggested naming a plot of land in another part of town in Kartik Bhil’s wife’s name. Other than this, we are considering all the demands,” he said. “Progress has slowed down due to the model code of conduct being in place.”
According to the 2011 Census, SCs comprise 17.83 percent of the total population of Rajasthan. Rajputs and Brahmins make up nine and seven percent respectively.
In west Rajasthan, the primary conflict is between Meghwals and Rajputs and dominant OBCs. In districts like Pali, Barmer, Jalore, Sirohi, Nagore, Bhilwara and Jhunjhunu, the main reason for these conflicts is land. Additionally, with better access to education, Dalit youths have developed a socio-political consciousness, pushing them to speak out for their rights. This often drives conflict with egos of upper-caste communities.
Bhanwar Meghwanshi, a writer and activist, said there are fewer cases of untouchability and caste discrimination in the Shekhawati region than in southwest Rajasthan. There are also fewer cases in southeastern regions because the socio-political landscape is “completely different”. Crucially, these areas have smaller Dalit populations too.
Satyaveer Singh, a retired IPS officer, blamed “feudal arrangements” and “lack of education” in the state since before independence.
“An understanding of caste issues developed late,” he said. “This has affected policing too.” Another issue is that the Dalit and Adivasi victims and their families are often pressured to “compromise” with the perpetrators of violence.
There are presently 36 SC/ST special courts in the state . There are 20,492 cases listed or under trial before these courts as of June 2023 – 16,020 involving SCs and 4,472 involving STs. Conviction rates at these courts were 27.49 percent in 2020, 22.26 percent in 2021, and 22.38 percent in 2022.
The courts in Baran, Sawai Madhopur, Jodhpur, Jaipur, Sikar, Rajsamand, Chittorgarh, Churu and Jalore have regular state advocates. The other 27 courts have public prosecutors nominated from the state law department.
Satish Kumar, director of the Dalit Adhikar Kendra in Jaipur, explained the difference between state advocates and public prosecutors. The latter are “governmental, experienced and reputed”. The former are elected based on recommendations from political parties and are “neither trained nor accountable”.
“Due to this, there is no proper representation in matters of discrimination and the accused are acquitted by courts,” he said. “This is why there are low conviction rates.”
Ravi Prakash Meherda, the state DG for cyber crime and technical services, said Dalit people have “started coming forward” to get their complaints registered which is why there’s a “rise in the number of SC/ST cases compared to other states”.
Smita Srivastava, ADGP of civil rights, said, “Since 2019, we have started giving officers a compulsory course and exam training so that the strength of investigative officers in our police department increases. For new ways to present evidence, new methods of solving cases are required. Work is underway. Police officers are also being sensitised.”
It should be noted that the SC/ST Act mandates the constitution of a state-level vigilance and monitoring committee headed by the chief minister. It’s supposed to meet twice a year.
In Rajasthan, CM Ashok Gehlot led a meeting of the committee in August 2023 for the first time in 13 years, even though the Rajasthan High Court had ordered it in 2015. Additionally, district and block level committees are inactive, and not a single awareness centre – as mandated by the Act – has been opened at the district level.
Bhagwana Ram, a Dalit social activist in Jalore, said a majority of jobs in the state are based in tourism and mining. Meanwhile, traditional occupations are weighed down by social equations. Rajasthan also has fewer metropolitan regions and high cost of transport, making it difficult for people to leave their traditional homes.
But, he said, Dalit youths are becoming more outspoken and economically self-reliant.
“My village has 8,000 families of which 600 are from the Dalit Meghwal community,” he said. “A majority of Dalit communities would work in the farms of the Savarna community. They don’t anymore. They go to nearby districts in search of employment.”
Social media has played a big role in spotlighting instances of caste discrimination.
“Videos become viral more easily and the police and administration have to take these matters seriously,” said Dilip Solanki, a Dalit journalist in Jalore. “These days, only a video of the crime is required to take matters to the police and the case is filed. Now, no one needs to collect a crowd to get an FIR registered.”
Anil Dhenwal, the state in-charge of the Bhim Army, agreed.
“Today we have phones. We can send videos to the SP and DM,” he said. “At least they get to know of the incident. My father and grandfather did not have the confidence to go to officials. We have got a lot of courage by being able to reach the SP and DM.”
But on the flip side, as Bhanwar Meghwanshi said, social media is also where hate speech spreads fastest, fanning the flames of religious and inter-caste tension.
Translated from Hindi by Urkarsh Sharma.