Thursday, January 21, 2010

[ZESTCaste] Mid-day meal programme sparks caste row

Mid-day meal programme sparks caste row
By Manoj Kar
Kendrapara, Jan. 20: In the latest caste-bound conflict, the noon meal
was yesterday stopped in a government-run primary school in a remote
village under Rajnagar tehsil with a section of villagers registering
their protest against cooking of mid-day meals by scheduled caste

MDM was stopped yesterday at Sidha Marichani Primary School in
Sanamarichapalli village. A section of Village education committee
(VEC) members made their way to school kitchen and forced the Dalits
cooks to stop the noon meal. Their argument was that Dalits have no
right to cook in the school that accommodates the upper caste

Two Dalits cooks were locked up inside the kitchen for over an hour
before the school head master rescued them.

Meanwhile, the Maa Ambika Women's Self Help Group running MDM in the
said school expressed unwillingness to shoulder noon meal
responsibility. A complaint has been lodged in this regard by the
concerned SHG before the Rajnagar block development.

The group alleged that they were being ill-treated because of their
lower-caste root.

Yesterday's incident has set off caste-bound divide in the remote village.

The village has a population of about 700 people of which nearly
one-third are from lower caste origin.

As one passes through the backward village with rows of mud-walled and
thatched houses, deceptive calm pervades the air. The demographic
graph of the village is heavily tilted towards the upper caste. The
upper castes, mostly landowners, are economically better off than the

"The upper caste parents are insistent that Dalit women cooks should
be shown the door. But we can not change the equation as it's the
decision of higher authorities to deploy them for cooking duty",
according to school head master Rabindra Nayak.

It's pertinent to note here that the School and Mass Education
Department was earlier accused of shutting the 'kitchen' doors for
Dalit women on the ground that upper caste children may skip the
mid-day meals. The government agencies monitoring the scheme in the
district had allegedly stopped recruiting the Dalits as cooks.

The retrenchment drive of Dalit cooks had triggered a furore with the
National Human Rights Commission last year directing the
administration to stop the caste-bound and arbitrary practice.

The Women & Child Welfare Department, through a notification had
ordered that the enrolment of MDM cooks in primary schools should be
preferably women from scheduled caste and tribe community. Priority
should be accorded to widows and destitute women from these lower
castes for cook enrolment.


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