In pictures: Casteism, digital divide shadow on Kerala Dalit student’s death

On 1 June, Devika Balakrishnan, a 14-year-old Dalit student from Kerala’s Malappuram ended her life over not being able to attend online classes after her daily wage-earner father, blighted by ill health and lack of work during the lockdown, failed to repair the TV on which she was to attend virtual classes that began on Monday.

Schools have been shut in Kerala since the state locked down its 3.48 crores people on March 25 to curb the spread of the coronavirus, leaving thousands of children from Dalit, Adivasi and other backward communities whose families cannot afford expensive devices with no access to education.

Dalit activists slammed the Left Democratic Front government for not providing facilities to the students from marginalized sections of the society. Dalit intellectuals said that the lack of infrastructure has a direct correlation with the caste location of a student and they called the Dalit student’s death as ‘institutional murder.”

Maktoob photographer Shakeeb KPA visited Devika’s house and school.

 Devika was a star student in her class – and had even bagged the Ayyankali talent scholarship, awarded by the Kerala government. Photograph in the calendar on the wall in her home shows Devika receiving the award. Photo: Shakeeb KPA/Maktoob
Balakrishnan, a daily wage laborer is in absolute shock and is unable to comprehend that their beloved daughter Devika is no more. Despite having a TV in the home he could not recharge it due to lack of money since he was unemployed due to lockdown. He had also sustained a hand injury last week. Photo: Shakeeb KPA/Maktoob
The 10th grader lived in the Mankeri Dalit colony in Walanchery in Malappuram district. “There has already been a wide gap that does exist between students from the upper layers and those who belong to the lower strata. Dalit students living in ghettos and such similar circumstances, don’t find it easy to use information technology as others do,” Dalit acitivist Rekha Raj told The Federal. Photo: Shakeeb KPA/Maktoob
Devika’s grandmother Kali told reporters that the girl had been sad as she could not take part in the virtual classes. Before death, Devika had scribbled in her notebook ‘death, death, death’. Photo: Shakeeb KPA/Maktoob
Devika, a bright student at Irimbiliyam Govt Higher Secondary School in Malappuram district, took the drastic step because she could not attend online classes. Kerala Government has decided to start regular classes through online medium irrespective of various Dalit and Tribal activists warning that without ensuring digital infrastructure to all the students from marginalized sections, they will be deprived of the fundamental right to education. Photo: Shakeeb KPA/Maktoob
The charred remains of Devika were found in front of an abandoned house near her home. Malappuram superintendent of police Abdul Kareem said the preliminary investigation indicated towards suicide. Photo: Shakeeb KPA/Maktoob
“Devika was very smart in her studies, was part of the Junior Red Cross team of the school and was the class leader too,” Aneesh Kumar K, who was Devika’s eighth standard class teacher told The News Minute. Poster on Devika’s school wall reads “Condolences to Devikamol, PTA, staff, and students, GHSS Irimbiliyam”. Photo: Shakeeb KPA/Maktoob

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