Dalit Student’s Death in Jalore Shows How Corporal Punishment Is Intertwined With Caste
On 14th August, a nine-year-old boy Inder Meghwal, a student of Saraswati Vidya Mandir in Surana, Jalore, Rajasthan, died after battling injuries for close to a month. He had been hospitalized after being beaten by his Savarna teacher, reported The Mooknayak. The boy’s family alleged that the teacher initiated corporal punishment — while hurling casteist slurs — after Meghwal, a Dalit student, touched a water pot that was designated for the teacher’s personal use.
This is not the first time that a child from a marginalized caste or religion has faced abuse and violence at the hands of a Savarna teacher. Only two weeks prior to Meghwal’s death, Jahangir, a resident of Uttar Pradesh’s Kannauj district, alleged that his son Dilshan was beaten to death by three teachers of a private school, where Dilshan had gone with his friends to enquire about the admission procedure. The teachers reportedly accused Dilshan of stealing a watch. “He and two others were caught by the teachers. They had done some mischief with a watch. The teachers, including the principal Shiv Kumar, hit them. While they let the other two go, they took my son in and kept beating him,” said Dilshan’s mother, Shabana.
Both Meghwal and Dilshan’s deaths highlight how corporal punishment not only thrives in Indian schools, but also how caste and religion complicate the phenomenon. The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, prohibits “physical punishment” and “mental harassment”, and recognizes the breach of prohibition as a punishable offence. However, despite these safeguards, corporal punishment remains a popular method of disciplining children in both schools and homes. In a 2019 column, Dr. Vageshwari Deswal of the Faculty of Law, University of Delhi, noted how those who carry out physical forms of punishment do so under the idea that such punishment is meted out for a child’s own good, to reform and prohibit bad behavior.
Related on The Swaddle:
The Jalore incident also highlights the acceptance of corporal punishment in Indian society. Since the arrest of the teacher who slapped Meghwal, and who hails from the Rajpurohit community, reports highlighted his “good behavior” and the presence of Dalit teachers in Meghwal’s school — ostensibly to erase caste from the incident.
But caste and religion are intertwined with corporal punishment, which is often used as a tool to discipline someone — especially Dalit students — for violating unspoken norms. The Swaddle reported earlier how casteism thrives in India’s private elite schools, noting how corporal punishment is one way in which unequal treatment is exercised. Punishment and discipline become ways to uphold norms dictated by caste: everything from food, behavior, and uniforms is rooted in hierarchical norms, and not maintaining them is seen as a violation that is met with serious penalties.
Additionally, corporal punishment is often exercised against marginalized children more than it is against others. A 2019 study, for instance, showed how for similar offences, the severity of punishment meted out to marginalized children was greater than that exercised against other children. A report by Gurugram-based NGO Agrasar corroborates this: pointing to a pattern of corporal punishment being a tool that’s used to victimize marginalized children in higher frequencies.
Take Dilshan’s case: his parents allege that he was the only one who was beaten up by the three Hindu teachers in Ujjain, while his companions were allowed to leave. The incident shows how a student’s religion, or in the case of Inder Meghwal, caste, often plays a role in deciding the degree of punishment a child receives in schools.
The issue isn’t recent: in 2015, the National Commission for Scheduled Caste and several children’s rights activists comprised the jury of a national hearing that looked into identity-based discrimination in schools. 44 children across 14 states deposed at the hearing — including children who had faced instances of corporal punishment for, in one instance, requesting an extra helping of food. The hearing found that corporal punishment was one of many ways in which Dalit and OBC children, among others, were pushed out of education or otherwise subject to discrimination in schools.
The incident then points to a pervasive pattern of exclusion in education, in which corporal punishment acts as a disciplining tool that’s fatal to some children. It shows how the discourse on corporal punishment is incomplete without looking at how casteism and marginalization are inextricable from its logic of retributive punishment.