Some children in Andhra Pradesh’s Nalgonda district refuse to eat the mid-day meal served in school. It is not good, say their parents, because the food is cooked by Dalits.
G Malliah, president of the Pathy Suryapetha village gram panchayat, said: "Yes, some parents don't allow their children to eat food in school because a Dalit cooks it. For a few parents we cannot snatch the livelihood of a Dalit woman."
But, Malliah adds we cannot force the children to have a meal.
Yamamma, a Class III student of the primary school, is one of them. “My parents told me not to eat the food in school. They say food is not good.”
The discrimination is prevalent in Nalgonda and Rangareddy districts that are dominated by the upper caste Reddy community. But it is not limited to Andhra. In parts of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, upper castes don't allow Dalits to be employed as cooks or even serve the food. Their children also sit separately from the lower caste children.
P Sanjeev Reddy, a local Telegu Desam Party leader, says the mid-day meal is an incentive for child labourers to attend school. The education department with the help of the village Child Rights Forum identifies the child and then convinces the parents to send them to school. For decades, children have been employed in farms by the major land holding Reddy community. But efforts of MY Foundation, an NGO, and village panchayats have ensured that almost all children attend school.
"For many children the mid-day meal is the only nutrition they get in a day. So, it helps in convincing parents," says Reddy.