Orissa villagers stop midday meal cooked by Dalits
Debabrata Mohanty Posted online: Friday , Jan 22, 2010 at 0038 hrs
Bhubaneswar : Caste conflict in rural Orissa raised its ugly head once
again after villagers in coastal Kendrapara district on Wednesday
stopped midday meal at a government primary school protesting against
cooking by two Dalit women.
The cooking at Siddha Marichani Primary School in Sanamarichapalli
village of Rajnagar tehsil under Kendrapara district was stopped after
a section of Village Education Committee (VEC) members ordered the
Dalit cooks to
stop work. "They reasoned that the Dalits have no
right to cook at a school that accommodates upper-caste children,"
said Kendrapara Collector Sisir Kanta Panda, who has ordered an
administrative probe into the incident.
The village has a population of 700 people of which about one-third are Dalits.
The two Dalit women were locked up inside the kitchen for an hour
before the school headmaster rescued them. Headmaster
Rabindra Nayak said he was being forced by the
upper-caste villagers to disengage the two women. "But I pleaded my
helplessness as it was the decision of the higher authorities," he
Incidentally, the state Women and Child Welfare Department, through a
notification, had ordered that preferably women
from Dalit and tribal community should be enrolled as mid-day meal
cooks in primary schools.
The Kendrapara Collector said he was disgusted with the incident.
"This should not happen. Do we go to a hotel and check the cook's
caste before eating there?" he asked.
The Maa Ambika, a women's self-help group running the mid-day meal
scheme in the school, has expressed unwillingness to continue
providing the meal. The group has alleged that they are being
ill-treated because of their Dalit status.
Though the School Education Department initially did not allow Dalit
women to cook mid-day meals on the grounds that upper-caste children
might skip the meals, it gave in after the National Human Rights
Commission last year asked the administration to stop the practice.
In February last year, Dalit students at a government-run primary
school in the same area were allegedly prevented from performing puja
and having prasad during Saraswati puja at a village in the district.
The headmaster was later put under suspension.
In December 2006, four Dalits had entered a 300-year-old Jagannath
temple at Keredagada village of Kendrapara, defying opposition to
their entry by upper castes for over a year. The Orissa High Court
came to the rescue of the Dalits, ruling on December 5 that they could
enter any Hindu temple.
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