Mandeep Kaur, general secretary of Punjab Midday Meal Cooks’ Front, has lost her job. For the past 22 days, she is on an indefinite sit-in against “being victimised” for confronting schoolteachers who misused her school kitchen in this Sangrur village to cook fish.
The employee under the centrally-sponsored Midday Meal Scheme lost her job over “misconduct and misbehaviour”, says village sarpanch Lupinder Singh, who heads the village school committee. “She has not been at good behaviour, and she fought with teachers as well,” he said, failing to recall any detail of the resolution that the school committee had passed.
Mandeep Kaur’s long struggle for the rights of the programme workers and the protests she led during the Lok Sabha elections last year might have cost her the job. On February 22, she was asked not to come to the school anymore, and after a month of chasing the sarpanch and the local legislator to know the reason, she decided to start this protest outside the school on March 21.
After two weeks, an inquiry team from the district education office recorded the statements of both Mandeep and the school authorities. She accused teachers Yadwinder Singh, Kiranpal Singh, Kulwinder Singh and Gurinder Singh, and a school clerk of misusing the school kitchen. “I was made a victim of political vendetta for leading the cooks’ agitation,” she said. Her village is about 20 kilometres from the school, and her husband, who is a landless labourer, and her two children join her at the protest every evening. Her daughter had topped Class 8 examinations in the same school, where her son is in Class 6.
Asked to react to the allegations, Sangrur deputy education officer (DEO) Harish Kumar, said he had moved the investigation to the principal of a nearby school, who had been directed to file a report in another four to five days.