Tuesday, December 20, 2011

[ZESTCaste] Pupils refuse Dalit-cooked meals


Pupils refuse Dalit-cooked meals
Students having the midday meal at the school after government
officials intervened. Picture by G. Vijayalakshmi

Hyderabad, Dec. 19: Several upper-caste children have allegedly
refused midday meals prepared by Dalit cooks in an Andhra school,
sparking fears that one of UPA's key welfare schemes could be turning
into a platform to perpetuate caste prejudices.

The authorities of the Zilla Parishad School at Sundaragiri in
Karimnagar — slain Maoist leader Kishan's home district — have alleged
that the children turning down the food are being goaded by their
elders, including some village heads.

"Initially, the children complained that the quality of the food was
poor. Now, they have raised the bogie of Dalit women cooks," the
headmaster said on the condition of anonymity.

Food isn't the only problem. Dalits have been banned from social
ceremonies in Sundaragiri for years.

In school, the bias has shown up elsewhere, too. "Upper-caste children
are reluctant to sit with Dalit students on the same desks and stand
in line for prayers with them," said another teacher.

Attempts to end the bias in the meal scheme — aimed at reducing
dropouts and preventing child labour by getting kids to school — have
not made any headway.

"No matter how much we tried to convince the schoolchildren, they
didn't listen to us and agree to eat. The village elders have been
advocating untouchability and provoking their children," said Pavani,
the local education officer.

The team of cooks, too, expressed surprise at the attitude of the
children. "We have been doing our job well. We take all precautions to
ensure our children do not fall sick. We also want them to relish the
food," said A. Mallavva, who leads the team of cooks from Chaitanya, a
self-help group.

On Friday, officials conducted an inquiry and ensured that all 140 of
166 students who had come to the school that day ate the meal.

"We cannot file a case because the children are minors. We cannot take
action against their parents either as it is difficult to prove that
they are asking their children not to have the food for caste-related
reasons," said Tirumalai, the area's deputy superintendent of police.

Caste bias, untouchability and superstitions are not uncommon in the
area, once a preserve of feudal chiefs. Such practices were believed
to have been partly responsible for the rise of Naxalites in the
backward districts of the Karimnagar region, leading to the exodus of

Officials said nearly a quarter of the 11,000 villages in the region
are still blighted by such prejudices.

In one remote village of Karimnagar, residents have been living out of
their homes at nights for the past three months as they believe evil
spirits had occupied the hamlet and will leave only after the
Sankranti festival (January 14).


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