Caste cloud on midday meal

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  • Published 26.04.11

Paradip, April 25: Midday meal has triggered a caste conflict in a government-run primary school in Jagatsinghpur district, prompting Dalit children to skip classes.

Thirty-two Dalit children in Keutapala Upper Primary School in Barabatia village under Balikuda police limits have become victims of caste bias. School authorities here have violated law that bars discrimination on caste grounds. Human rights activists say that because of the discrimination, Dalits have stopped sending their children to school.

Rights activists said Dalit children were segregated from their upper caste classmates when midday meal was served in the school. While Dalit children were served food on banana leaves, their upper caste friends had stainless steel bowls and plates, they said.

Ironically, the stainless utensils had been provided by the state school and mass education department.

Children belonging to lower castes were being treated as ‘untouchables’ by authorities of the upper primary school, said Bibhuti Majhi, who is the district unit president of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). Majhi has sought penal action against the school authorities.

“Along with textbooks and note books, my ward used to take a banana leaf to school everyday. On enquiry, I found out that Dalit children had been asked to carry banana leaves as midday meal was served on it. On the other hand, stainless steel plates were there for the exclusive use of upper caste children. We protested against the practice. Our children have stopped going to the school,” said Yudhistir Mallick, a local Dalit resident.

Parents and guardians of the victimised children today filed a petition to the Jagatsinghpur collector seeking disciplinary action against the erring teachers. The district administration later ordered a probe into the issue.

“The alleged occurrence of caste bias is being inquired into. It’s a penal offence to inflict ill-treatment on caste grounds. If veracity is found in the charge, action would be taken against the school’s headmistress,” said Niranjan Chand, BDO, Balikuda.

“The allegations levelled against the teachers are serious in nature. A separate inquiry is being conducted into it by the school and mass education department. Action will be initiated on the basis of the probe,” said Jagatsinghpur district inspector of schools, Pitambar Rout.

Headmistress Jyotsnarani Swain, however, refuted the charges levelled against her. “Allegations are not true. Some of the children, however, prefer to take meal on banana leaves of their own accord,” she said.

“Our constitution and law of the land bars untouchability. The law has been enacted treating it as a penal offence. However, the abhorrent practice is in full swing in state government-run educational institutions,” Majhi rued.