Caste divide in Mid-day Meal programme


Taking strong exception to the prevailing caste bias in the running of the Mid-day Meal (MDM) programme in government-run schools, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has directed the Kendrapara district administration to comply ‘the action taken report’ for the undoing of the alleged discrimination.

The recruitment of Dalit women for school kitchen in a government-run primary school in Marshaghai Tehsil region had triggered caste-bound conflict recently with upper caste children skipping the school meal.

Driven by the fear that children from upper caste community may skip the free-meal scheme, the School and Mass Education Department of the district is often accused of shutting the ‘kitchen’ doors to Dalit women. The government agencies monitoring the MDM in the district have allegedly stopped recruiting them as cooks for the free meal scheme.

The NHRC, taking cognisance of a batch of petitions by rights activists, served show cause notices and observed that “disengaging the Dalit cooks is unlawful and it’s gross injustice to treat the women of lower caste in such a manner”.

The rights panel asked the local administration for a thorough inquiry into the alleged denial of rights to Dalit women and sought for an action-taken report in this regard in a month’s time.

In almost all the 1427 government-run primary schools, meritorious claims of the Dalit applicants were relegated to the rear and the Harijan women were ignored for the jobs notwithstanding the standing government guidelines. With hardly a dozen schools accommodating the Dalits for kitchens, it continues to trigger uproar among rights activists.

Rights activists maintain that fundamental right of these Dalit women seeking employment opportunities is trampled down with impunity and the local mass education department officials overtly patronised despicable practice of ‘untouchability’.

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 from these lower castes for cook enrollment.

On the contrary, in a majority of 1427 government-run primary schools in Kendrapara district, upper caste women sneaked into school kitchens relegating the meritorious claims of Dalits.

“We came across stray cases where Dalit women managed the school kitchens. Harijans incidentally predominantly inhabited the places where lower caste women did the cooking. In rest of the schools, the Dalit women were debarred from the school kitchen despite the departmental instructions,” alleged rights activists.

It is indeed shocking that majority of teachers of various schools were of the view that the cooking by Dalits would lead the children from upper caste and other backward castes to skip MDM.

The cooks are paid meager payment of Rs 200-a-month by the WCD department. But for these economically and socially backward community women, this meager amount is apparently bigger than what it seems, the petitions noted

Source : Kalinga Times

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