Why Has The Mainstream Media Blacked Out The Death Of Delta Meghwal?
NEW DELHI: Delta Meghwal was a 17 year old Dalit girl from a village near the Pakistan border in Barmer district of Rajasthan. She was enrolled at Jain Adarsh teacher training institute for girls in Nokha, Bikaner where she was pursuing her BTSC.
According to a friend of the family and local activist Suresh Jogesh, “Delta was a brilliant student and an amazing painter, having topped in an art competition in Rajasthan when she was in the 12th standard. One of her artworks were featured in an art magazine published by the Rajasthan secretariat in 2006, when she was just 7 years old.”
On March 29, Delta’s dead body was found in the water tank of her hostel. The police were called in, and removed her body in a tractor without videographing it.
The institution has claimed her death was a suicide. They claimed that Delta had been caught in the PT teacher’s room, and committed suicide after the administration issued a warning and demanded an apology from her and the teacher, Vijendra Kumar.
' Delta’s family have put forth a different version of events. They have clearly claimed that Delta was murdered. According to an FIR filed by her parents, on March 28, Delta called her father and said that the warden, Priya Shukla had sent her to the PT Instructor's room to help him with some work. Delta told her family that she was raped by Mr. Kumar, and her family have said that she seemed very scared when narrating the incident.
The institute, on its part, reportedly took a written apology from Delta, with the specification that the act was with mutual consent.
“Now the question is, why did the Institution not inform her parents? Why did the Institute not sack the PT teacher and file a complaint against him as she was a minor?” Asks Suresh Jogesh as he points to several loopholes in the administration’s story.
Jogesh adds that the police seem to be in a hurry to label it a suicide without waiting for the forensic report. “If there was an element of clarity in the post mortem that Delta had committed suicide, I would understand… but the post mortem clearly states that her lungs were healthy. In fact, most of her organs were healthy. If she had drowned in the well as the administration claims -- then the post mortem should have shown congestion in the lungs and other organs. This was not the case -- so why is the police not waiting for clarity as per the forensic report?” Jogesh told The Citizen.
A Rajasthan based Fact Finding Team of the National Human Rights Organisation (NHRO) conducted a preliminary investigation and has issued a report after meeting with Delta’s family, community members from the village, the school administration and staff, and the local police. The full report can be foundhere.
Excerpts from the report, as published by Sabrang, state:
On March 29, 2016 when news of her death came, the body of Delta Meghwal was found in a terrible condition, drowned in a water tank behind the girl’s hostel.
Police officials of the Nokha police station removed the body (without recording the condition through videography nor recording a panchnama). The garbage carrying vehicle of the Nagar Nigham used to take out garbage was used to take the body to the local hospital for the post mortem. Family members of Delta have submitted a Complaint to the police that states that the PT teacher Vijendra Singh had first raped, then killed her and thereafter discarded the body in the water tank. Thereafter the story of the suicide was concocted in a bid to mislead the administration.
According to the Complaint filed by her parents, there were only four girls at the hostel as all the other girls had gone home and had not returned by then. A day before, on the evening of March 28, at 8 pm, Delta had called her father and told him that their Warden Priya Shukla had sent her to the PT Instructor Vijendra Singh's room, with the excuse of cleaning the hostel (this shows the clear collusion of the warden in the case, says the report).
The police version:
IO Satnam Singh
The IO Satnam Singh gave his version which is as follows:
One of the staff/ workers of the Jain Adarsh Vidyala had informed the police that a student had committed suicide by jumping into a water tank on March 29. About 1 p.m. that afternoon, two police officials, one Kanhailal and Sandeep Lalit were sent to spot; the body was retrieved and sent to the mortuary of the local hospital for the post mortem. The IO also said that the PM report became available on March 31. The body had signs of injuries; there was no sign of water in the lungs. Explaining this phenomenon, the IO said that often when those who drown have blockages in their food pipe due to which water does not get into the body!!! (Delta’s body was found several hours after she was found missing !)
The IO further said, “We have arrested PT teacher Vijendra Singh. He would be produced on April 1, 23016. Apart from sections 376(3) of the IPC, sections of the Atrocities Act and POSCO Act have been applied to him. Only after the FSL report arrives a decision on applying Section 302 (murder) will be taken. “
The IO added, “The chairman of the institute, Eashwar Chand Ved is absconding. From others we have found that on the night of March 28, 2016, very late, 2 a.m. or so, the girl was found in the PT Teacher’s room. Both had admitted their ‘mistake’ and written an ‘apology.’ The IO also said that knowledge of a relationship between the PT teacher and the girl had been coming to light for the past 2-3 months. The IO said that we are trying to get details of this from the mobile phones. The written report from the father of the girl was received by March 30. It is on the basis of that report that we have filed an FIR.”
(The Fact Finding Team has noted: The incident took place on March 29, 2016. Even after 24 hours the Police had not, by itself registered any FIR. In this amount of time, evidence can be destroyed; or those involved in the crime can abscond; a fake account can even be manufactured)
The administration’s version:
Rajendra Srimali, Principal:
“Four different units run in within institution that include a CBSE secondary school, a degree college, a BSTC College and a BED College. In the past five months, I have also been given charge of the BSTC college.
“Delta Meghwal, is a a student from Garad Road, Barmer, daughter of Mahendra Ram Meghwal. Vijendra Singh, joined as PT teacher four months ago. Vijendra Singh was known to Priya Shukla (the warden) and her husband, PP Shukla. The couple recommended him.
Apart from a girls hostel, the premises also have some staff quarters. A little farther from the staff quarters are some other rooms in which Vijendra Singh was staying. He is married but his wife had not joined him.”
The principal also said that he got to know of the incident of the dead body of a student being found only on the afternoon of March 29, 2016. By this date, only four students had returned to the girls hostel after the Holi vacation. Priya Shukla is the warden of the hostel.
“It is the Warden only who could give all the details of what happened on March 28 and 29.”
Priya Shukla, Hostel of the Girls Hostel:
Then Priya Shukla was called to Principal Srimali’s room.
Without the team even asking a question Priya Shukla began her account: “I officially do not hold the post of Hostel Warden. But the administration had given me this responsibility as I stayed in the staff quarters. On March 28, around 12 noon I was informed that a girl named Delta was not in the hostel. At the time only four students had returned to the girls hostel after the Holi vacation.
“It was Leela Madam, holding the post of Nurse and staying with the students in the girls hostel, who phoned me and informed me of the girl’s absence. All of us began hunting for the girl since it was late at night and I even called my husband, PP Shukla to join the search.
“ I also called Vijendra Singh on the phone to help in the search. When he did not come out of his room for a long time, I knocked on his door which he opened after quite some time. He was told to help in the search for Delta who is missing. When Vijendra Singh tried to shut the door of his room, I got suspicious and went inside the room and put the light on. Delta was present there.
“When questioned, the PT teacher said ‘Delta had asked for awlas (berries) and come to get them’. It was 1.30 a.m. Both Delta and Vijendra accepted their ‘wrongdoing” and promised not to make such mistakes in future. Both were asked to write ‘maafi naaamas' (apologies)."
This incident was obviously attempted to be buried and no efforts made by the Warden to speak to Delta Meghwal on her own the whole of the next day after this incident.
Priya Shukla continued, “On March 29, 2016 at about 7 am, again, it was Leela Madam who said to me that Delta was missing from the student’s hostel. The hunt for her began. At about 11 a.m. the chowkidar (guard) said that Delta's body is lying in the water tank. Then he informed the chairman Easwar Chand Ved, who called the police who removed the body from the tank.
Hanuman the chowkidar did not meet the team and his account therefore could not be recorded.
The team also met one Ghansiram Meghwal who does the work of masonry within the institute. He said about a fortnight earlier, the chairman, Easwar Chand Ved had told him that the tank near the girls hostel was leaking due to which water was seeping out; and asked him to repair it. He said he had not yet repaired it. Delta Meghwal’s body was found here.
The team also met with the Principal of the Nokha Government Upper Primary School (Rajkiya Uccha Prathamik Vidyalaya Pradhan Adhyapak), Suresh Hathila. He recounted his assessment of Delta Meghwal.
Suresh Hathila said that Delta was a serious student and an extremely mature girl. Her BST Lesson Plans had been given in his school. Her way of teaching was creative and impressive. She worked very hard to prepare her lesson plans. She was very interested and good at art. She had got recognition from the chief minister of the state for this. How can such a student commit suicide? It is a very unfortunate incident, a tragedy; because of which Dalit students, especially girl students will feel very insecure. We demand that those guilty should face severe and exemplary punishment, he said.
Delta’s family’s version
Delta’s family has clearly said that they believe she was murdered. Her parents complaint is as follows:
The family have said that on March 28, 8 PM, Delta called her father and stated that she had been raped by the PT teacher, after being sent to his room as a helper.
Although it is not the place of the media to pass judgement on the events and the culpability of the parties involved, it is its job to report a story. The story of Delta Meghwal, however, is almost entirely absent from the pages and screens of India’s mainstream media.
When this writer asked Mr. Jogesh as to why the media was blacking out the story, he said, “The college’s owner Easwar Chand Ved is ofcourse very influential man. He has four colleges and allegedly has been linked to RSS too." In regard to the blackout, Mr. Jogesh points to another obvious yet worrying factor -- "this [blackout] is very common with dalits and we all know their share in media".
Despite the blackout, the little coverage that the incident has got in the digital media -- along with citizen’s marches, protests and the action of civil society organisations -- has prompted the local police to take some action. Three people have been arrested, Jogesh tells The Citizen, the PT teacher Mr Vijendra Kumar, the warden Priya Shukla, and the warden’s husband Pratik Shukla.