Upper caste students boycott midday meal cooked by Dalit woman in Uttarakhand | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Upper caste students boycott midday meal cooked by Dalit woman in Uttarakhand

ByMohan Rajput, Rudrapur
Dec 21, 2021 04:47 AM IST

‘On the first day (of her joining work), students of upper caste had the midday meal cooked by her without any fuss, but from the next day, they started boycotting the meals,’ said school principal

Hindu upper caste students in Uttarakhand’s Champawat district have been for the past week refusing to eat their midday school meals cooked by a Dalit woman, sparking a row over social discrimination and caste prejudice.

Government schools are mandated to provide a midday meal to all students to encourage attendance and ensure adequate nutrition. (Representational Image)
Government schools are mandated to provide a midday meal to all students to encourage attendance and ensure adequate nutrition. (Representational Image)

Sunita Devi, a woman belonging to a scheduled caste, was appointed recently as bhojanmata, or cook for midday meals, at a government secondary school in Jaul village of Sukhidhang area in Champawat district. She was tasked with preparing meals for students of classes 6 to 8.

“On the first day (of her joining work), students of upper caste had the midday meal cooked by her without any fuss, but from the next day, they started boycotting the meals,” said Prem Singh, principal of Government Inter College, Sukhidhang, said on Monday. “What made them stop eating the midday meals is beyond my understanding. Of the total 57 students, today only 16 students belonging to the scheduled caste had a meal here.”

Government schools are mandated to provide a midday meal to all students to encourage attendance and ensure adequate nutrition. There are two posts for cooks in Sukhidhang high school. When one of the cooks, Shakuntala Devi, retired, Sunita Devi filled up the vacancy.

She was appointed following all government norms, Singh said. “We had received 11 applications for the post of bhojanmata. She was selected in an open meeting of the parent teacher association and school management committee held in the first week of this month,” the principal said.

The inter college, as some secondary schools are called in Uttarakhand, has 230 students on its rolls. Some 40 students belonging to upper castes out of 66 students of class 6 to 8 have stopped eating the midday meal a day after Sunit Devi started work on December 13, Singh said. Rather than eat food prepared by a Dalit, they have opted for bringing tiffin from home, he said.

Parents of the students who are boycotting the midday meal allege that the management committee and Singh passed over a deserving upper caste candidate.

“We had selected one Pushpa Bhatt, whose child is also enrolled in the college, in an open meeting held on November 25. She was needy too, but the principal and the school management committee sidelined her and appointed a Dalit woman as bhojanmata,” said Narendra Joshi, president of the school’s parent teacher association. “Since the number of the upper caste students is more than the scheduled caste students, so an upper caste woman should be appointed as bhojanmata.”

Singh said he has informed higher authorities about the appointment and subsequent boycott. “Some parents are creating an unnecessary controversy,” he said.

Bablu Gahtori, a parent of two students in the school said, “A woman who was really needy and separated from her husband was selected in an open meeting but she was overlooked by the SMC and principal. She should have been given the opportunity to earn bread and butter instead of the woman who has been appointed as bhojanmata.”

“We are surprised to see the sudden change in behaviour of our fellow students. We were having meal without any discrimination till last week,” said a girl student, who belongs to scheduled caste community and wished not to be named.

The education department has set up an inquiry to look into the matter, said RC Purohit, chief education officer of Champawat. “I am personally looking into it,” Purohit said, adding that deputy education officer Anshul Bisht has been tasked to lead the inquiry. “Appropriate action will be taken after his report.”

Boycotting midday meals cooked by a Dalit is a violation of law that is harmful for social harmony, said Harshbardhan Rawat, ex-chairman of the local municipality.

“We are living in a modern age and such kind of controversy may damage social cohesiveness,” Rawat said. “The administration should set up a high-level inquiry into this matter and punish the persons responsible for sparking such a controversy.”

Hariom Parkhi, a Hindi teacher at the school said, “I am in-charge of Nation Service Scheme (NSS) and earlier I was in-charge of scout in my college. I have never seen such discrimination in children. We prepare food during camps and students of all castes eat without any discrimination. We have upper caste and scheduled caste students and they all study with harmony but this incident has send a wrong message of casteism. This is not good for our society.”

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