Dalit kids shamed at mid-day meals
Vijaysinh Parmar, TNN 9 December 2009, 02:07am IST
government officials had fanned out across Gujarat last month to
ensure quality education in primary schools.
They perhaps missed out on the untouchability practised in schools. As
per the 'Census on Untouchability'
across 1,655 villages in Gujarat, 53.78% Dalit children studying in
primary schools are discriminated against in mid-day meals.
"We are made to sit separately during the lunch hour," says Vijay
Sitapara, 9, who belongs to the Valmiki caste, the lowest of the
socially downtrodden. Vijay, who studies in class IV at the government
primary school in Modhvana, says schoolmates from other castes avoid
having food with them.
While other backward class children would still have food, though
seated separately from the Dalits, higher caste pupils stay away
altogether from mid-day meals at this school because the food is
cooked by a Dalit. "I come from a Dalit family. Naturally, higher
caste members will not eat what I cook," says Gauri Vankar.
Even as the syllabus teaches equality, students learn lessons in
untouchability in practice. All Dalit students are forbidden from
participating in cultural events. Valmikis have to also clean up
school toilets. Dharmendra Sitapara cleaned up the toilets since he
was in class IV. Now, he is in high school which has a sweeper.
"It is shameful that we are nurturing these prejudices at such an
early age in the temples of learning," says Ganshyam Shah, a social
scientist who assisted the study carried out by Ahmedabad-based
Navsarjan Trust with three US-based organisations - the Kroc Institute
for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame,
Indiana, Dartmouth College at the University of Michigan and Robert F
Kennedy Centre for Social Justice and Human Rights, Washington, DC.
"Sadly, the very tools to eradicate discrimination have become
carriers. They are helping sustain age-old caste systems," says Martin
Macwan, a Dalit rights activist.
Shyam Sitapara, 8, of village Modhvana, Surendranagar, dropped out of
the government primary school after class II because students, mostly
from upper castes, started taunting him for his long hair. Shyam lost
his mother an an early age and his father is a landless labourer.
Valmiki kids grow their hair till a special ritual is performed at a
community temple. But his father does not have the money to perform
the ceremony and host a community feast. He now just roams around the
school, longing to go inside, but afraid of the humiliation he may
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