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Midday Meals Or A Huge Serving Of Casteism?

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TW: Mentions of casteism, sexual violence

Sunita Devi, a Dalit woman, secured a job of bhojanmata (caretaker of meals) in Uttrakhand’s Champawat district’s inter-school. However, on 21 December 2021, she was fired alleging a wrongful appointment after upper-caste students refused to eat food prepared by her.

She told BBC, she was humiliated, and casteist slurs were said to her. She was removed from her post on 23 December 2021, citing procedural lapses in her appointment.

They want to remove me, but I will not leave. I will protest. Why did they not eat food prepared by me? I want justice, that’s it,’ Sunita told BBC Hindi.

Infuriated by the blatant discrimination, Dalit students in Uttrakhand refused to eat mid-day meals prepared by an upper-caste cook. The district administration later said that the matter had been resolved.

This is not an isolated incident. Caste-based discrimination on all levels and forms is an everyday reality in India. For example, in 2015, 100 students left Kagganahalli school in Kolar district in Karnataka since the appointment of Radhamma, a Dalit woman, as a cook.

In 2018 a similar incident occurred in Tamil Nadu. Upper-caste parents objected to a Dalit cook preparing mid-day meals for their children and threatened to disrupt school’s functioning if she continued. The block development officer responded by cancelling the deputation order given to the cook.

Angered by the discrimination and injustice, the Bahujan community protested, which forced the administration to reinstate Ppappal.


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These incidents tell us a larger story of institutional injustices and biases towards the community. It is strengthened and backed by the brahminical Hindutva state machinery that does everything in its power not to disturb the status quo that is inherently unjust.

There has always been an attempt to remove marginalised groups’ agency and and make them vulnerable to institutional or state repression.

Be it the discriminatory nature of PhD viva result at Jawaharlal Nehru University, where students from Dalit, Bahujan and adivasi community who scored good marks in written exam received single-digit marks in the viva or the faculty appointment at GB Pant Social Science Institute Of Allahabad.

The institution said, it did not receive any “qualified” candidate for the post—depriving students of marginalised groups from education and accessing privileged spaces in order to muzzle any voice of dissent and resistance against injustice.

protestors holding a placard that says 'Dalit Lives Matter'
Upper-caste parents objected to a Dalit cook preparing mid-day meals for their children.

These institutional biases are essentially an attempt to exclude the underprivileged groups and weaken their voice. According to a 2010 report by NHRC on the prevention of atrocities against scheduled caste, a crime is committed against Dalit every 18 minutes.

On average, three Dalit women are raped, two Dalits murdered, and two Dalit houses burnt. According to the statistics put forth by KB Saxena, a former additional chief secretary of Bihar –

37% of Dalits live below the poverty line, 54% are undernourished, 83 per 1000 children born in a Dalit household die before their first birthday, 12 percent before their fifth birthday and 45% remain illiterate. In 28 percent of the Indian villages, Dalits are not allowed to enter the temple.

An image of Dr. B.R Ambedkar in Mahad Satyagraha against caste atrocities
While studying about Salt Satyagraha we comfortably ignore Mahad Satyagraha of 1927. | Image Credits: Forward Press

After 94 years of Mahad Satyagraha, Dalits are still denied water sources in their villages. History NCERT textbooks talk about the Salt Satyagraha of 1930. However, they comfortably ignore Mahad Satyagraha of 1927, led by Babasaheb Ambedkar, where he drank water from a public tank and thousands followed him.

On paper, everyone was allowed to use public tanks, but what was written on paper was never realised due to agitation by savarna (upper-caste) Hindus. The tank was then considered ‘polluted’, later purified’ using cow urine and cow dunk.

Whose history is written tells us who owns the past. Why are some memories privileged over others? What does it say about the society we live in?

Unless we make our institutions more inclusive of our diversity through political and social representation, instances of discrimination and exclusion have always been and continue to be.

Equality and justice, which are the constitutionally enshrined rights of the constitution, will not reflect themselves unless we are conscious of our rights and are willing to fight for them. Fair representation in public offices and places of authority is crucial for people’s voices to be heard.

Note: The author is part of the Dec ’21 batch of the Writer’s Training Program

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