In an era when one set of Indians is manning the world’s knowledge back-office with distinction, another set of children — in Madhya Pradesh, which the ruling BJP often showcases as a “model state” – has to face such discrimination and humiliation. Everyday.
This Indian version of apartheid is taking place in schools and childcare centres run by the government, and in schemes funded by the tax-payer’s — in other words, your – money.
<b1>According to a survey on social discrimination conducted by Jansahas, an NGO, and Unicef, in 24 villages across four districts – Ujjain, Sheopur, Katni and Jhabua – in Madhya Pradesh, more than 63 per cent of Dalit children are subjected to caste discrimination while being served mid-day meals in government schools.
They are forced to sit in separate rows, bring utensils from home or given food in plates marked boldly with permanent ink to distinguish them from the rest.
The Mid-Day Meal Scheme, funded by the government, is the world’s largest school lunch programme and covers 120 million children. Ironically, one of the key objectives of the scheme is to increase socialisation among children of different caste groups.
“As many as 40 per cent of Dalit students facing discrimination were given mid-day meals in plates specially set aside for them,” Jansahas activist Ashif Sheikh told Hindustan Times.
While some were asked to bring utensils from home, most were served their mid-day meals on leaf plates. Non-Dalits, however, were served on metal plates.
The survey found that most teachers were insensitive to the discrimination against Dalits because of caste-based traditions being followed in rural areas, he said.
In a majority of the schools surveyed, Dalit students were not allowed to sit in the front row. As many as 78 per cent of school-going Dalit students were backbenchers or forced away from the front row and subjected to casteist abuses.
And 79 per cent of such students were compelled to clean the schools. In some schools, this chore was given only to Dalit girls.
The survey found that the Anganwadi scheme, a government-sponsored mother and childcare scheme catering to children in the 0-6 age group, also discriminates against Dalits. About 59 per cent of Dalits said they desisted from sending their children to the local anganwadi facilities.
The victims claimed that Dalit children were not allowed to enter the anganwadis and were forced to accept nutritional supplements outside the building.
The survey concluded that caste discrimination is one of the prominent reasons for the absence of Dalit children from school.