Dalit students refuse meals cooked by woman from upper caste at Uttarakhand
Dalit students in a school in Uttarakhand boycotted the midday meal prepared by an upper caste cook days after upper caste students refused to eat meals cooked by a Dalit woman, who was subsequently fired.
Of the 66 students of classes 6 to 8, 58 were present on Friday, Prem Singh, principal of the Government Inter College of Sukhidhang in Champawat district, said. “When the midday meal was served, 23 Dalit students refused to eat the food cooked by the upper caste bhojanmata (cook),” Singh said. “They said if upper caste students boycott the food cooked by a Dalit bhojanmata, they will boycott the meal cooked by the upper caste woman.”
A row erupted at the school last week when upper caste students refused to eat the food cooked by Sunita Devi, a Dalit woman, who was hired on December 13.
Devi was removed from her post on December 21, with the state’s education department citing procedural lapses in her appointment.
“We had received 11 applications for a Bhojanmata post. She (Devi) was selected for the post on December 5 in a meeting,” principal Singh said. “When the row of boycotting midday meals erupted, our senior officers held an inquiry into the matter and cancelled her appointment on December 21, saying due process was not followed.”
Devi and her husband, Prem Ram, work as farm hands.
After she was fired, Devi approached the local administration in Tanakpur of Champawat and police outpost in Chalthi, complaining about caste discrimination. The police, however, is yet to register a case.
Subsequently, Vimilesh Upreti, 37, a woman from an upper caste, was appointed in Devi’s place.
“I tried to persuade the Dalit children to have the midday meal on Friday, but they refused,” Upreti said on Saturday.
Devi, however, said that Dalit students were giving a befitting reply to the upper caste people. “If upper caste students don’t eat the midday meal cooked by a Dalit bhojanmata, how can Dalit students have the meal cooked by an upper caste woman,” she asked.
The parent teacher association, meanwhile, has alleged that Devi is provoking children to eat the food prepared by the new cook. “This is not a case of discrimination but a matter of faulty process in appointment of Sunita Devi. She is now provoking the children,” said Narendra Joshi, president of the parent teacher association.
By firing a Dalit cook, the state government has hurt the self-respect of Dalits, tweeted Chandrashekhar Azad, the chief of Bhim Army, a group that fights caste discrimination. “If the Dalit woman is not reinstated, the Bhim Army will gherao of chief minister Pushkar Singh Dhami,” Azad said.
“We are waiting for the inquiry report and will take proper action accordingly,” said RC Purohit, chief education officer, Champawat district. “As far as boycott of Dalit students is concerned, we will go to the school again and will sort out the matter of purported discrimination.”