Uttarakhand: Dalit cook fired after students boycott midday meal

After upper caste government school students refused to eat food cooked by a Dalit woman, the school authorities decided to fire her citing that norms of appointment were allegedly defied.

The principal of Sukhidhang government inter-college (GIC) (a secondary school), did not get Sunita Devi’s appointment approved by higher authorities as ‘bhojanamta’ (person who cooks mid-day meals), alleged the officials in the state’s Champawat district.

“We found during the inquiry that the principal of the college, Prem Singh, had failed to follow the norms in the appointment. After this, we cancelled the appointment of the Dalit Bhojanmata unanimously,” said chief education officer (CEO), of Champawat district, RC Purohit, to the Hindustan Times.

Sunita Devi had been appointed on December 13 as bhojanmata, replacing Shakuntala Devi who belonged to an upper caste. On Sunita Devi’s first day, all students consumed the midday meal together.

“But the next day, about 40 students from among 60 upper-caste students between grades 6 to 8, denied to eat food and brought tiffins from home,” reported Prem Singh.

The boycott of the students was backed by their parents who alleged that Devi was chosen over another deserving candidate, Pushpa Bhatt, a Brahmin. The protests by the students forced the government to launch an enquiry into the matter.

On Tuesday, Purohit alongside the deputy education officer (DEO) Anshu Bisht, called a meeting of the school management committee (SMC), parent-teacher association (PTA) and the village head.

“The principal should have taken approval before the appointment but he failed to follow the norms. As per norms, approval is a must from DEO before the appointment. Now, the whole process will be again conducted and the Dalit bhojanmata can again apply,” said Purohit.

Another bhojanmata, an upper-caste woman, has been appointed to make mid-day meals, until a new cook is appointed. I made the children of every caste sit with one another and eat the midday meal on Tuesday. There is no problem between parents and children now,” the CEO added.

There are two posts for cooks in the secondary school, the cook on the second post belongs to the upper caste.

The move to dismiss Devi has not been received well by many activists and right group activists who said that it was discriminatory and biased. Whereas the parents of the upper caste students were relieved and said that they were satisfied with the government decision.

“Parents are satisfied with the inquiry and decision of education officers. Process of the appointment has to be conducted again. We hope all norms will be followed in the appointment of bhojanmata. Upper caste children have called off the boycott and are having midday meals as earlier,” said president of the PTA, Narendra Joshi.

“This is a social evil that upper caste students boycotting the midday meal cooked by Dalit woman. In this case, the authorities should appoint her again and set up an example,” said president of the Uttarakhand Parivartan Party, PC Tiwari.