Thursday, July 03, 2003

Parents 'caste' aside mid-day meal

H M ARAVIND

MYSORE: Swallow this: parents are refusing to allow their children to partake of mid-day meals in government schools. Reason: the meals are prepared by dalit cooks.

The Karnataka government's 'Akshara Dasoha' initiative, which got off to a wholesome start on Tuesday, has now turned sour because of an odious social prejudice. The objective of the mid-day meal scheme is to provide nutritious food to children and to reduce school dropout rates.

When the government hired dalit cooks, it was merely honouring the reservation policy guidelines. However, parents of at least three government schools in Kirangur, Haravekallahalli and Tattekere in Hunsur taluk and two government schools in Doddahinduwadi in Kollegal taluk of Chamarajanagar district would have none of it. And they made sure their children had not a morsel.

Incidentally, agriculture processing minister Raju Gowda hails from Doddahinduwadi village. On Tuesday itself, many children were forced to return home hungry by their parents.

“The number of children who had food in school increased on Wednesday as compared to Tuesday,” Kollegal BEO Mahadevamma told this paper. She said the authorities had visited the school and discussed the problem with the management and teaching faculty.

Parents of an Urdu school in the village also took back their wards, because Dalit women had dished out the food. The BEO admitted that the authorities will have to make alternative arrangements if the scheme is to continue.

Authorities of three schools ran into a similar problem in Hunsur taluk. Hunsur BEO Kamaraiah said several parents had prevented their children from having lunch. However, he said officers will interact with parents and try to convince them.

Deputy commissioner Kumar Naik was rather tactful. While agreeing that “parents should be careful about hygiene”, he said “the problem has not come to my notice”.

He, however, said the government has to follow the reservation policy in the recruitment of cooks.

Union minister of state for public distribution V. Srinivasa Prasad has deplored the incidents. He called for a concerted effort to tackle the “social evil of untouchability, still being practised in rural areas”.

He told reporters here that contrary to the government's claims, untouchability is still in practice. He said the Akshara Dasoha scheme should be implemented in earnest.

Source: The Times of India, July 03, 2003

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