Anti-Caste Protests Continue in India After Dalit Student’s Rape and Death

On March 28th, Delta Meghwal, a seventeen year old Dalit — or oppressed caste — student at a college in the Western Indian state of Rajasthan, called her parents to tell them that she had been raped by a teacher. The next day, her dead body was found in an on-campus water tank.

According to the institution, which forced the minor to sign a statement that the rape had, in fact, been consensual, Meghwal’s death was by suicide. According to activists and Meghwal’s family, Meghwal was murdered. Police have arrested the accused teacher, a physical therapist, for rape, and continue to investigate her death. Meghwal was raped after being sent to clean her teacher’s room — itself an evocation of gendered and caste-based hierarchy shocking in an educational institution. 

The young woman was a bright student and an award-winning artist training to be a teacher.

Situating the violence as part of historical and continued violence against low-caste people in India (including sexual violence against Dalit women), students and activists have protested the rape and murder of Meghwal as police investigate the case.

Protests for Meghwal come in the middle of a series of Indian student agitations that include both an anti-caste movement and movements against the privatization of education and for the right to dissent. Following the arrest of student activists on several prestigious university campuses, student activism against the current right-wing government sharply intensified. Intersecting with this is the Justice for Rohith movement, an anti-caste movement calling for an end to caste-based discrimination in Indian institutions of higher education.

The movement began following the death of Rohith Vemula, a Dalit research scholar at the prestigious Hyderabad Central University (HCU), who committed suicide in late January following administrative persecution. Vemula, along with four other members of the Ambedkar Students Association (ASA), a largely-Dalit student group following the ideology of  Indian constitution framer and Dalit leader B.R. Ambedkar, was suspended in December for an alleged altercation with members of a right-wing student group, the ABVP. The students’ suspension followed months of pressure on the HCU administration by government officials to take action against the ASA students. 

“I request your highness to make preparations for the facility ‘euthanasia’ for [Dalit] students,” wrote Vemula in a letter to the university’s Vice Chancellor shortly before he died, highlighting the caste discrimination many students face. Vemula’s death became a rallying point for students and activists nationwide. 

Meanwhile, student protestors involved in the Justice for Rohith movement at Hyderabad Central University have been subject to an intense crackdown, including a 48-hour witholding of university dining facilities, internet, electricity, and water, and police violence that included 29 arrests.

Meghwal’s death, thus, has occurred when the issue of atrocities against Dalits, and specifically Dalit student, is being raised robustly by Dalit activists. The sexual violence she was subjected to is also a tragic reminder of the struggles of low-caste women under the dual oppression of caste and patriarchy. As more and more students raise their voices about their own experiences of caste oppression, the struggle continues.

Cover photo of Meghwal circulating as part of protests.

Reina Gattuso is passionate about empowering conversations around queerness, sexual ethics, and social movements with equal parts rhapsody and sass. Her writing has appeared at Time, Bitch, attn:, and The Washington Post. She is currently pursuing her masters.

Reina Gattuso writes about her sex life for the good of human kind.

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