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Dalit cooks in UP schools spark outrage

The Uttar Pradesh government directive to state-run schools on employing Dalit cooks has brought into focus the caste tension that prevails even among primary students. Haidar Naqvi

india Updated: Jul 16, 2010 00:51 IST
Haidar Naqvi

The Uttar Pradesh government directive to state-run schools on employing Dalit cooks has brought into focus the caste tension that prevails even among primary students.

The issue has acquired greater prominence, with the panchayat elections two months away.

In the districts of Kanpur Dehat, Kannauj and Auraiya (all in central UP), an atmosphere of confrontation has been created in 22 primary schools between upper orders and Dalits, with the former refusing to eat what scheduled caste (SC) cooks prepare.

The April 24 order says all primary schools having 26-100 students will have to employ two cooks, one of whom must be SC. A school with 101-200 students must have three cooks — one from the general category, one SC, and one from the other backward classes.

A school with 201-300 students has to hire two SC cooks, one from the other backward classes, and one from the general category. Each cook is being paid Rs 1,000 a month.

In Kannauj there have been protests on this issue. The parents of upper-caste students assaulted district officials when Sub-Divisional Magistrate Manoj Singhal forced students to have food prepared by an SC woman. Government vehicles were set afire.

Looking to arrest trouble, Kannauj District Magistrate Govind Raju NS has cancelled all the appointments of cooks made by village heads.

Kanpur Dehat District Magistrate SK Tewari has a different take on the issue on the problem in his district.

He said, "People were angry with the local village headman. They prevented their children from going to school as a protest against non-development."

"The issue was twisted and politicised," he said.