Students boycott meals cooked by Dalits, say contractor; officials say no caste bias

Officials from the education and revenue departments held a meeting with parents and teachers of a village primary school in Morbi district on Thursday after the midday meal (MDM) contractor, a Dalit, alleged that students of OBC communities were “not eating the meal in the school cooked by Dalits (the contractor’s family members)”.

After media reports claimed that students were boycotting the meal cooked by Dalits, a team comprising two education inspectors of Morbi taluka and deputy mamlatdar of MDM of Morbi visited the school.

“The district collector also had sent a deputy mamlatdar. The team held a meeting with teachers and parents in the presence of the MDM contractor and has submitted a report,” said Bharat Vidja, incharge district primary education officer (DPEO) of Morbi.

Vidja said that the team and teachers tried to convince parents to persuade their children to have meal served by the government. “As per the report of the inquiry committee, it is not an issue of caste bias. It is just that children are opting not to have the midday meal served in the school,” the DPEO added.
A member of the probe committee said that the school has around 153 students and 138 of them were present on Thursday. “The children carry their own lunchboxes and prefer to have home-cooked food during, instead of eating the midday meal at the school,” the member said.

MDM is a government scheme to improve the health of children by offering nutritious food to students of primary schools run by the government. “However, it is not mandatory for a student to eat the meal served at the school… At the meeting with parents in the presence of school teacher and the MDM contractor, we asked if they had any complaints about quality and quantity of the meal… All of them said no,” said the committee member.

The village is dominated by OBC (other backward castes) communities, while it also has five Dalit families, the officials said.

According to the Dalit contractor’s husband, “One the first day when the school reopened after the summer vacation, the principal told my wife to cook meal for 100 students. But only seven students of the Scheduled Castes turned up for the meal. On the second day, the principal asked to prepare meal for 50 students… But only Dalits students ate it.”

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He claimed that after a while Dalit students also stopped eating the meal and the contractor was forced to stop cooking MDM from the second week of July.
“This was not the case when an OBC person had the contract… Such an attitude is not good in a school when we have a Dalit woman as our President. Therefore, I complained to the mamlatdar and police. They tried to persuade parents but to no avail.”

Sarpanch of the village, however, denied that the children were boycotting the meals as a Dalit got contract to cook it. “Not too many children were eating the meal at school previously also… Children say that they would eat the midday meal if they liked it. We can’t force them to eat school meal only,” the sarpanch said.

“A Dalit has been awarded the contract for the first time in the school and the contractor’s husband claims children are not eating the meal as it is cooked by Dalits. But that is not the case. I have done meetings with villagers over the issue and appealed them to persuade their children to have the school meal but nothing has worked so far,” the sarpanch added.

However, the contractor’s husband said that in recent years, the OBC communities have started allowing Dalits to participate in religious festivals and use same dishes as OBCs at village feasts.

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