Cooking discrimination : Caste virus 004OR2007


In the latest simmering caste-bound conflict, the upper caste parents have stopped sending their wards to a government-run primary school in a remote village under Marshaghai tehsil Kendrapara district of Orissa to register their protest against cooking of mid-day meals by scheduled caste women. The state of affairs is showing signs of snowballing into a tricky controversy even as the Self-Help Group of Scheduled Caste women, presently running the mid-day meal kitchen in Raibola lower primary school, voiced its anger against the ‘atrocious’ behaviour on part of upper caste villagers.

The agitated group of SC women lodged two separate complaints to the District Collector and Superintendent of Police and alleged that they were being ill-treated because of their lower-caste root. A section of upper caste people recently barged into the school kitchen and damaged the oven asking them to stop cooking. Palpable tension has taken firm grip in obscure village, just 15 km away from district headquarters, with caste divide reigning supreme. The village has a population of about 1300 people. “We have received the complaint. It is being investigated,” the District Collector Mr. Kashinath Sahu said.

As one passes through the comparatively developed village with scores concrete buildings, a deceptive calm pervades the air. The demographic graph of the village tilts towards the 1,000-strong upper caste population. About 30 dalit households mostly eke out a living on fish trade and are mostly cut off from the mainstream. The decree of upper caste people rules the roost with subdued dalits taking things in their stride.

“We have become victims of the inflated ego of the upper caste people. Once the social welfare department entrusted our Basulai SHG with cooking assignment of school mid-day meals, trouble has begun, said Shakuntala Behera, chief of Basulai SHG comprising dalit women.This correspondent found the caste divide more or less pronounced in the village nestled across the Luna River. Differences across the caste line are discernible as the panchayat pond is a prohibited territory for daily use of dalits.

The village school was a sight of neglect with dilapidated asbestos roof structure showing sign of caving in at any given moment. Despite crores of rupees spent under the Reconstruction of School Building (RSBP) project under the Centrally-funded Sarva Sikhya Abhiyan, the said school for strange reasons seemed to have escaped the notice of education planners.The school wore a deserted look on Thursday with attendance being 18 children against the roll strength of 43. One could smell caste-bound conflict in the air with children attending the classes being from dalit sections only.

“We have tried our best to persuade the upper caste guardians to send wards to school. But it was of no avail. Since 1st February when Dalit women operated the MDM cooking, there was gradual slump in attendance. The upper caste parents are insistent that dalit women cooks should be shown the door,” narrated school headmaster Golakh Chandra Parida. “I have taken up the matter to local Sub Inspector of Schools.”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.On the contrary, in large majority of 1427 government-run primary schools in Kendrapara district, the upper caste women sneaked into school kitchens relegating the meritorious claims of dalits.

Source: Kalinga Times

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