UP midday meal bias probe
The Uttar Pradesh government on Thursday ordered an inquiry into allegations of discrimination related to sitting arrangements during the serving of midday meal at a primary school in Ballia district.
In two videos that have created a flutter on social media, a set of students in clean clothes is seen sitting in a neat row in the verandah of Chaukia Primary School and having food, while groups of pupils are seen huddled in corners and eating.
Each of the students in the row is seen eating from sets of utensils, while the others in unclean clothes have identical plates with compartments in front of them. Some of the students not part of the row have been served meal on banana leaves.
The father of a Dalit student told reporters on the condition of anonymity that it was usual for upper caste people not to sit together with those from the lower castes while eating.
The school authorities denied any discrimination on their part. Ballia district magistrate Bhawani Singh Khangaraut, who visited the school to investigate the allegations, denied that there was any bias.
“I spoke to the students and found out that the allegations were baseless. The quality of food is also good. However, we have asked a joint magistrate to probe the episode and submit a report to the government. The inquiry officer will talk to the students and their parents and prepare the report,” the DM said.
The father of the Dalit student said many pupils from the lower castes were not allowed to attend classes on Thursday to avoid any interaction with the DM.
“There are 42 students in the school, of which only 18 were allowed to attend classes today. Officials of the education department, the school management and village panchayat members, who are supposed to organise and monitor the midday meal, were aware that an inspection could be conducted today,” the father said.
“If the government is serious about correcting social ills, the inquiry officers should find out why 24 students, who attended school from Monday to Wednesday, were absent today,” he added.
“Upper caste people don’t share meal with those from the lower castes. Such discrimination has been there for ages. Whatever we see in the school is a reflection of the society. Upper caste students take their own plates to school because the trays given in the school are used by Dalits,” the father added.
Purushottam Gupta, the headmaster of the school, told reporters before the DM’s visit that the same steel plates and meal were provided to all students.
“There is no sitting arrangement as such for the students during the distribution of midday meal. The students have their own groups and sit together wherever they want,” Gupta said.
The headmaster, however, suggested that the students themselves were not immune to discrimination.
“We ask the students to sit together but they refuse. Maybe it is because of the mindset of the elders in their families. But the school doesn’t discriminate between the students,” Gupta said.
Bahujan Samaj Party president and Dalit icon Mayawati alleged “discrimination” and demanded legal action against those guilty.