Thursday, August 28, 2003

Three Dalit minors rescued from rape, bondage

HYDERABAD: Three minor Dalit girls, all of them migrants from Orissa working in a brick kiln in Kowkoor in Alwal, were sexually assaulted by their employers over a period of one and a half years.

The accused -- kiln owners Mohammed Feroz Khan, 30, and Mohammed Ayub Khan, 25, and contractor Sanju Sagaria -- were arrested on Wednesday. Alwal police registered a case under Sections 376 (rape) of the CrPC and the SC, ST Atrocities (Prevention) Act against Feroz and Ayub. They, along with the contractor, also face another case of engaging bonded labour.

The girls were part of a group of 50 labourers from Bolangir district who migrated here in search of work. Sagaria contracted them for the Khans' brick unit, police said. They were paid a pittance.

After repeated sexual assaults, one of the girls became pregnant. She fled the kiln and went back to Bolangir and informed an NGO, Friends Association for Rural Reconstruction (FARR). Bijoy Kumar Gupta of FARR came to Hyderabad in search of the other labourers and found them at Kowkoor village in Rangareddy district. He informed Action Aid, another NGO, which tipped off the Cyberabad police commissioner M Mahendar Reddy.

Source: The Times of India, August 28, 2003

Sunday, August 24, 2003

Want a Cow Bill? Go tell it to this child

Dalits were beaten, set ablaze on false charges of cow slaughter. All 32 accused are out on bail

NIRMALA GANAPATHY

JHAJJAR, HARYANA, AUG 23: This week they passionately debated the rights of the cow in Parliament. Less than two hours away, in Dulina village, where five Dalits were beaten to death and set ablaze on the false charge of killing a cow, all the 32 men accused are out on bail. Some of them bragged to The Sunday Express that they wouldn't mind doing it again.

As for the families of those killed, the compensation is of little comfort. Each family got Rs 5 lakh from the Haryana government, Rs 1 lakh from Sonia Gandhi, Rs 3 lakh from the Uttar Pradesh government. But ask Ramvati, mother of Virender, one of those killed. ''I want my son back,'' she says, ''I am ready to give the money back, just give me justice.'' Next month, the court is expected to frame charges but for Ramvati, it's not going to be easy.

On October 15 last year, her son Virender; their friends Kailash, Dayachand, Tota Ram and Raju were on their way to Karnal carrying hides and the carcass of a cow in a truck. They stopped in front of the police station in Dulina where they met some villagers coming back from a Dussehra fair.

Soon word spread that a cow had been ''slaughtered and was being skinned.'' A mob gathered and right under the nose of the police watching, the five men were beaten to death and then set on fire.

The police, instead of acting against the lynching, registered a case against the victims under the Prevention of Cow Slaughter Act! And even sent the cow carcass for a post mortem. Once the results came in that the cow had been dead 24 hrs before the lynching, the case was withdrawn and two cases of murder and attempted murder were registered against 32 villagers.

Surprisingly, although the incident took place with police watching, the initial FIR, filed by Rajinder Singh, the SHO at Jhajjar police station, did not name anybody. Over the next month, 32 residents were identified and their names filed. One of them was Rajbir Kumar, sarpanch of neighbouring Sura village. When The Sunday Express met him, he said he was willing to ''give money'' for the Cow Bill. Although he denied being involved in the lynching, he said: ''If somebody does this to a cow we will do the same thing.'' Five from his family are co-accused.

All of them were out on bail by January despite being booked under stringent sections: murder, rioting with deadly weapon, mischief by fire and explosive substances (435) and under the SCs and STs Act. District Attorney S K Chopra said the court granted bail because none of the 32 figure in the initial FIR. ''There were no specifics like who hit who. We have 43 witnesses, the case is based on cirumstantial evidence,'' he said. That's why there is no case, says A P Kadyan, defence counsel.

The delay in the case occurred, both sides said, after the judge hearing the case took voluntary retirement and the case got transferred to the court of SDM Inderjeet Mehta.

Meanwhile, Buddhu Ram, relative of victim Dayachand, said, ''We don't go to the court, nobody listens to us and we are scared of going there.'' The families want the case to be transferred to another court.

The accused walk free. ''They killed the cow while it was roaming around,'' said Sri Bhagwan, another accused. Both the victims' families and the accused blame police: one side for not saving lives, the other for not saving an imaginary cow. This was never part of the debate on the Cow Bill.

Source: The Indian Express, August 24, 2003

Thursday, August 21, 2003

Multi-crore scheme for Dalits in Punjab

PATIALA AUG. 20. The Amarinder Singh-led Congress government in Punjab here today launched a Rs 500 crore scheme to provide latrines to ten lakh families of Dalits and other weaker sections of society to mark 59th birth anniversary of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

Launching the ``Rajiv Gandhi Pendu Jan Sehat Kalyan Yojna'' here, the Chief Minister said that Rs 142 crores had been allocated for the current year when about two lakh toilets would be constructed in beneficiary individual houses free of cost. The scheme would be completed in three years, he said.

He criticised the former Chief Minister, Parkash Singh Badal, for having opposed the Rajiv-Longowal accord alleging that his predecessor was never interested in the signing of the accord. Paying tributes to Sant Harchand Singh Longowal, whose death anniversary also falls today, Capt. Singh said that, but for leaders like Mr. Badal, peace could have returned to Punjab earlier.

Talking to reporters Capt. Singh said that the government proposes to launch an ``Aashirwaad'' scheme for the girls. The details would be worked out soon, he said adding that the launching of this scheme and other welfare measures would depend on availability of funds.

Those present included Rural Development and Panchayat Minister, Rajinder Kaur Bhattal, who said there were no differences within the party leadership.

Source: The Hindu, August 21, 2003

Saturday, August 16, 2003

Dalit woman attacked at fete

ANANTAPUR AUG. 15. Differences between supporters of the TDP and the CPI over the election to the chairmanship of school education committee of Mellakunta village in Kambaduru mandal of the district, which was conducted last month, resulted in the alleged attack on the SEC chairperson, Laxmidevi, a Dalit, by the former today.

According to the information reaching here, the TDP supporters attacked Laxmidevi and 20 of her supporters when she went to the primary school to hoist the national flag on the occasion of Independence Day. The election was a controversial one as the TDP-backed candidate was defeated. The election result was announced recently.

The TDP supporters were also alleged to have tried to disrobe the SEC chairperson.

They attacked her supporters when they went to the rescue of Laxmidevi.

Source: The Hindu, August 16, 2003

Dalit panchayat chief hit with chappal for hoisting flag

MADURAI AUG. 15. A Dalit panchayat president, who hoisted the national flag today, was allegedly "beaten with chappals" and his wife assaulted by a group near Tiruppuvanam in Sivaganga district.

Braving opposition from a section of the villagers, the two-time Sottathatti panchayat president, K. Raju (50), unfurled the tricolour in a local school. And, even as he was presiding over a `gram sabha' meeting, a group assembled in front of the panchayat office in an agitated mood.

Soon after the meeting, K. Subbiah (45) and S. Muthu (50) of the village, confronted Mr. Raju and his wife, Meena (40), abusing them on caste lines. Even as Mr. Raju tried to explain, they beat him up with chappals. His wife was also attacked when she tried to intervene. The accused then threatened the couple with dire consequences and left the scene, police sources said.

An injured Ms. Meena was rushed to the Tiruppuvanam Government hospital.

Mr. Raju lodged a complaint with the Tiruppuvanam police.

Source: The Hindu, August 16, 2003

Nimbarga: official team to gather facts

GULBARGA Aug. 15. The State Government has decided to depute the Additional Director-General of Police, Subhash Bharani, and the Director (Social Welfare) to the trouble-hit Nimbarga village in Aland taluk of Gulbarga district on Saturday to find out the reasons for the clash between upper castes and Dalits, and also the alleged police excesses on the latter.

Disclosing this to leaders of dalit organisations here today, the Public Works Minister, N. Dharam Singh, said the officials had been asked to submit a report to the Government.

Based on the report the Government would initiate action against the Additional Superintendent of Police, D. Prakash, or any other police official.

The Dalit leaders, who staged a protest in front of the Iwan-e-Shahi Guest-house, where Mr. Singh was staying, demanded the immediate suspension of Mr. Prakash.

They said that he was allegedly responsible for the lathi-charge on the people in the Dalits' colony on the outskirts of the village on Wednesday.

Mr. Singh, who was closeted with the Inspector-General of Police, Kempaiah, the Superintendent of Police, Ramachandra Rao, and the Deputy Commissioner, Anjum Parvez, for more than an hour, sent word to the Dalit leaders to meet him at the guest-house.

But the Dalit leaders rejected the offer and insisted that Mr. Singh meet them where they were staging the protest.

The Dalit leaders, including the State convener of DSS (Sagar), Malleshi Sajjan, the central committee member, Arjun Bhadre, the district convener, Ambaraya Ashtagi, the Bahujan Samaj Party leader, Suryakant Nimbalkar, the State convener of DSS (Ambedkarwada), S.R. Kollur, the DSS district convener, Mallikarjun Poojari, and members of various Dalit organisations, who marched to the guest-house in the morning, were stopped at the main gate by the police.

Mr. Singh met the Dalit leaders outside the compound of the guest-house and tried to convince them that the Government was not shielding any officer.

No one would be spared if they were found guilty, he said.

Mr. Singh was told by the Dalit leaders that Mr. Kempaiah and Mr. Parvez had already submitted a report to the Government and how the police had allegedly tried to present a wrong picture about the incident on the first day by saying that eve-teasing by a Dalit youth was responsible for the clashes while the real reason was the differences between the upper castes and Dalits in the village.

Mr. Singh, who spoke to the Home Minister, M. Mallikarjun Kharge, over telephone, on the demand of the Dalit leaders for the suspension of Mr. Prakash, said the two officials would visit the district and hold discussions with the Dalits and other sections of society.

They would also visit Nimbarga.

Not happy with the response of the Government, the Dalit leaders tried to prevent Mr. Singh from proceeding to the Chandrashekhar Patil stadium to hoist the national flag.

Some 80 Dalit leaders and activists of dalit organisations were taken into custody when they refused to disperse.

Source: The Hindu, August 16, 2003

Friday, August 15, 2003

Woman sarpanch assaulted in Orissa

KENDRAPARA: A Dalit woman sarpanch, who was reportedly stripped by some persons at Batira village, about 40 km from here last June, was assaulted again on Wednesday, police said here on Friday.

Niyati Behera of the opposition Orissa Gana Parishad was injured following the attack and taken to a hospital, they said.

Police said the incident was a sequel to a long-standing family feud.

Cases had been registered under various sections of the IPC against six persons on the basis of the claim of the sarpanch following the incident. Police arrested one person in this connection.

Incidentally, the same person had been arrested earlier following the stripping incident and was out on bail.

Source: Keralanext.com, August 15, 2003

Thursday, August 14, 2003

48 dalits injured in UP caste clash

As many as 48 dalits were on Wednesday injured in a clash with upper caste Thakurs in Tajopur village in eastern Uttar Pradesh's Mau district. "Six of the injured are critical," state home secretary Raja Ram told mediapersons in Lucknow.

It was described as the first major caste clash in UP since Mayawati, a dalit, assumed office as chief minister about 17 months ago. Ironically, it took place just 48 hours before the Independence Day celebrations.

According to Ram, the clash took place following an attempt by a group of Thakurs to plough a large plot of land, officially allotted to some landless dalits under a special scheme for the landless. "The dalits resisted the Thakurs, who opened fire injuring 48 persons," he said.

"Thakurs say the land belongs to them but the government has identified it as that belonging to the local village committee over which the state enjoys sovereign right," Ram said.

Ten persons have been arrested in connection with the clash, Mau Superintendent of Police Piyush Modia told rediff.com over telephone.

Meanwhile, the government has announced an ex-gratia payment of Rs 50,000 to each of the seriously injured and Rs 20,000 to the others.

Source: Rediff.com, August 14, 2003

70 hurt in fresh caste clash in up

LUCKNOW AUGUST 13: A violent clash between members of the Thakur and Dalit communities has left at least 70 persons injured, seven of them seriously, at Tajopur village in Mau district this morning. The Sarai Lakhnashi police said a land dispute led to the clash.

According to Thakurs here, revenue records show they own several hectares of land that the local Dalits claim belong to the Gram Sabha. The issue had been dragged to the court but it took a violent turn on Wednesday morning when several armed men from the Thakur community drove into the disputed land in five tractors and forced the Dalits to leave.

A clash follwed in which at least 70 persons were injured. Seven of them were admitted to BHU in Varansi. The District Magistrate and Superintendent of Police have rushed to the spot.

''I can't contact the district officials because they have not yet returned from the spot,'' state Principal Home Secretary Pradeep Kumar.

Source: The Indian Express, August 14, 2003

Landowners fire on peasants

Lucknow, India - At least 70 Dalits, or lowest caste Hindus, were injured in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh when upper-caste landowners fired on them to settle a dispute, state officials said on Thursday.

Some two dozen Thakurs or upper caste landowners in Tajepur village, in the Mau district of Uttar Pradesh, tried to settle the long-running row with peasants from the Dalit community by firing on them late Wednesday, said state home secretary Raja Ram.

"At least 70 people were injured when the Thakurs and their henchmen opened fire on the large group of assembled Dalits. Seven of them are seriously hurt and we have rushed them to the Benaras Hindu University hospital in Varanasi town," Ram told press.

"The situation in the village is very tense. We have rushed a large contingent of police to Tajepur to keep the peace. We also do not want the caste war to spread," added the top state administrator.

The police have so far arrested seven Thakurs in connection with the firing while the others are absconding.

According to the police, the trouble started because the landowners and Dalits both stake claim to a fertile village plot.

On Wednesday, trouble began when the landowners, protected by gunmen, tried to till the disputed land by tractor.

However, as the number of angry Dalits at the disputed land site grew the Thakurs got worried and resorted to firing.

Polarised by caste

Uttar Pradesh, one of India's largest and most impoverished state, is deeply polarised by caste.

According to a national census conducted in 2001, Dalits account for more than 40% of the province's over 166 million people.

Dalits, once known as untouchables, make up about a quarter of India's billion-plus population and are the bottom rung in Hinduism's 2 500-year-old layered caste system.

Although India banned caste discrimination at independence from Britain in 1947, it persists throughout the country, particularly in villages.

Dalits still lag behind upper castes both socially and economically, though they have emerged as an important factor in politics, as their large numbers mean they can significantly influence elections.

A Dalit woman, Mayawati, who uses only one name, is the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh.

In some traditional areas, lower castes are banned from drawing water from the same wells as higher castes, cannot enter the same temples and are expected to bow and give way when higher-caste Hindus pass by.

Source: News24.com, August 14, 2003

Dalits deprived of burial ground

Thursday, August 14, 2003 (Kheda):

When 60-year-old Becharbhai died a few weeks ago, his family was unable to bury him for over 27 hours.

For this Dalit sub-caste, the Rohits, who bury their dead, their traditional burial ground is no longer open to them. It has been bought over by an ashram, creating a huge problem for this Dalit community, which lives around the small town of Matar in Gujarat's Kheda district.

They say they have been using this graveyard for the last 200 years. Finally, Becharbhai's family buried him in a makeshift grave by the river.

"We wanted to go to the place where our ancestors have buried bodies. But we weren't allowed to go there. Even the body wasn't handled properly," said Shantibhai Rathod, Becharbhai's niece.

Controversy rages

This has been an ongoing controversy for the last three years and the two Dalit deaths this year has only deepened it.

The ashram officials claim there was never any burial ground here to begin with. They say they bought this land from the state government and have gone to court to settle the dispute.

After the court issued a stay order, only ashram inmates are allowed to enter the premises.

"This land never belonged to Dalits. It was never a burial ground, there is no mention of a burial ground in the documents," said Vishnu Sharma, Rang Avadhoot Ashram.

Court verdict awaited

However, many residents of Matar insist this is where the Dalits have always buried their dead.

"If a bulldozer were to be used to dig up the place, human skeletons will be found," said Govindbhai Bhoye, a resident.

While the court will now decide whether or not this site was in fact a burial ground used by this community, in the meantime, the onus is on the state government to provide an alternative site.

Source: NDTV, August 14, 2003

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

CBI probe `one-sided', says Janu

KOCHI AUG. 12. The Adivasi movement leaders, C.K. Janu and M. Geethanandan, have alleged that the CBI inquiry into the Muthanga incidents is ``one-sided''.

At a Press conference here today, the two leaders alleged that the CBI was now investigating only the charges against the Adivasis and no case was registered on the firing and other atrocities committed on the Adivasis during the police action. They said seven criminal cases had been registered against hundreds of Adivasis, including women.

However, no case had so far been filed against the police who had opened fire on the Adivasis, killing one and injuring dozens, they said.

The Adivasi Gothra Mahasabha and the Adivasi-Dalit Samara Samithy would launch an agitation on August 13 pressing for criminal action against the police and others who had ``tortured and harassed'' the Adivasis, they said.

As part of this, dharnas would be organised in front of the Secretariat and at all district collectorates.

On August 30, a ``Gothrasakthi Sangamom'' would be organised at Kaattikkulam in Wayanad against the police atrocities, they said.

Ms. Janu and Mr. Geethanandan said that from September, the Adivasi land struggle and the movement for self-rule would be intensified.

They alleged that the Forest Minister, K. Sudhakaran, had a role in the ``atrocities'' committed on the Adivasis during and after the Muthanga incident.

Source: The Hindu, August 13, 2003

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Woman, daughter paraded naked on witchcraft charges

PATNA: A Dalit woman and her 18-year-old daughter were paraded naked in a village in Bihar and mercilessly beaten after being accused of practising witchcraft, police officials said.

The incident took place in the village of Lakhaipure in Gaya district, an official said.

About 50 villagers attacked the duo, accusing them of having caused the murder of a woman called Tulsi Manjhi in the village of Nawadih through witchcraft.

The police have lodged complaints against the 50 villagers, who are also accused of beating up the Dalit woman's younger son in the attack Sunday.

Instances of Dalits being harassed in the name of witchcraft are on the rise in Bihar. Last month two alleged witches were forced to consume human excreta in separate cases of harassment by villagers.

Source: Newindpress.com, August 12, 2003

Monday, August 11, 2003

Minister apologises for remark

MYSORE AUG. 10. Bowing to pressure from dalit organisations, the Minister of State for Agro Processing, Raju Gowda, today tendered an unconditional apology at Kollegal, near here, for having allegedly insulted a dalit officer recently. The apology from the Minister came after calls from dalit organisations to observe a "Black Day" on August 15, and boycott of the Minister at public functions. Mr. Raju Gowda tendered the apology in front of the Assistant Director of Animal Husbandry, Basavalingaiah, at the taluk panchayat office. Leaders of the organisations were also present. The Minister had allegedly insulted Dr. Basavalingaiah during a review meeting at Kollegal on August 2. Requesting the organisations not to launch an agitation, Dr. Basavalingaiah said Mr. Raju Gowda should be pardoned as he had tendered an apology. Addressing the leaders, Mr. Raju Gowda said he did not abuse the officer, but had only spoken in a lighter vein. Recalling his association with Dr. Basavalingaiah, the Minister said that he joined politics with the late Puttaiah, the elder brother of Dr. Basavalingaiah. Since both hailed from the same village, he was close to the officer, he added. "I have become a prominent politician of the district with the blessings of dalit voters as Vokkaligas were only around 3,500 in Hanur constituency. When I am indebted to dalits, how can I insult a dalit officer? he asked. The agitators were pacified after the Minister with folded hands said: "If my remarks against the officer have hurt the feelings of the dalit community, I tender my apology unconditionally."

Source: The Hindu, August 11, 2003

Sunday, August 10, 2003

Dalit killed for entering temple

Bhitasi village, Anand : Not everyone in this Gujarati village was shocked when a 28-year-old Dalit man died on Friday after being thrashed severely by upper caste residents for sitting in the verandah of a temple here.

Police officials and social workers say such incidents occur regularly, but only a handful are reported as members of the lower caste community still fear the wrath of the upper caste residents.

Raman Chaturbhai Vankar in Bhitasi village near Anklav town was allegedly severely beaten up by members of the upper caste community on July 25 for sitting in the verandah of Bhathiji temple.

The doctor's certificate states that Raman suffered only simple injuries, had no internal injuries and would be fine within a week. But Raman died on Friday.

The four accused - Suresh Lakha Bhoi, Bhikha Chimanraj, Asha Rama Bhoi and Mahendrasinh Jaswantsinh Raj - were arrested but later released on bail.

With tears welling in her eyes, Raman's sister Vimla said, ''We had gone to the fields and sat down in the temple verandah as he was tired. For this, both of us were verbally abused and then Raman was badly beaten up by them (accused). Raman's death is also due to the negligence of the doctor, who told us he would be fine and gave a certificate saying his injuries weren't serious.''

Source: The Times of India, August 10, 2003

Saturday, August 02, 2003

Congress 'satyagraha' against 'ill-treatment' of Dalit MLA

HYDERABAD: State Congress leaders on Friday staged a day-long satyagraha at the Mahatma Gandhi statue in Secunderabad protesting against the ill-treatment meted out to senior Dalit MLA Dr P Shankar Rao (Shadnagar) and the growing number of atrocities on Dalits all over the State.

The PCC took up the protest after Congress president Sonia Gandhi asked them to build up a movement against the TDP Government, focussing on the plight of Dalits in the present dispensation.

On June 5, when Dr Shankar Rao was on his way to inaugurate a TTD Kalyana Mantapam in Shadnagar, the police prevented him and later registered a case against him for trespassing.

In a belated protest, Congress leaders observed the satyagraha, demanding action against the TTD officials and the police who prevented Shankar Raos entry into the Kalyana Mantapam on caste grounds.

Addressing the gathering, PCC president M Satyanarayana Rao said that the TDP had an innate hatred for Dalits. The Dalits were living in constant dread of the ruling party everywhere, he said.

CLP leader YS Rajasekhar Reddy said that the TDP was always against Dalits, even those within the party.

Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu sacked Dalit Minister S Devaiah because he faced a charge of murder, but glossed over the fact that ministers K Sivaprasada Rao and P Ramasubba Reddy faced similar charges, he said.

Congress leader V Hanumantha Rao said that the only way to oppose the TDPs anti-Dalit policy was to wage a relentless battle. He also had a dig at his own party pointing out that none protested the treatment meted out to Dr Shankar Rao until the direction came from Sonia Gandhi.

Source: Newindpress.com, August 2, 2003

Friday, August 01, 2003

Untouchable lunch?

Parvathi Menon

The Karnataka government's mid-day meal scheme for primary school children in all government schools across the State has a troubled start with initial reports of food poisoning, but the greater danger relates to upper-caste opposition to Dalits cooking the food ...

PERHAPS the major emerging obstacle to the success and spread of the mid-day meal programme comes from the upper-caste opposition to it. One head cook and two assistant cooks have been appointed to each of the 30,000-plus kitchen centres in 20 districts. In keeping with the State's job reservation policy, one of the posts has been filled by an appointee from the Schedule Castes/Schedule Tribes. This single administrative measure has exposed the ugly face of caste and its continuing grip on the consciousness and actions of people even in a relatively advanced and prosperous district like Mandya. Parents from the dominant Vokkaliga caste would simply not allow their children to eat food cooked by a Dalit woman. Caste opposition to the bisi oota scheme is also being stoked by those who wish to see the programme undermined for a larger political agenda.

Several villages in Mandya district have boycotted the programme, protesting against the appointment of Dalit cooks. "The whole of our village consists of upper-caste people. Our children will not eat food made by a Dalit. If the government insists on retaining the cook, then we will reject the entire bisi oota scheme. Our children can eat at home," G. Sadasivaiah, the president of the SDMC at the Government Higher Primary School in Gowdeyanadoddi village, told Frontline. The bisi oota scheme in this village, which ran for just four days, has been stopped. Once the cooks were appointed, upper-caste parents refused to allow their children to eat the school meal.

"In my school, only Dalit children eat the lunch provided in school," said Chaluvaraju, almost apologetically, to Frontline. As the Headmaster of the Government Higher Primary School in Uramarakasalagere village, Mandya district, Chaluvaraju is helpless about changing upper-caste mindsets. "We have 104 students who are eligible for the lunch. On the first day, all the children came. Once a Dalit head cook was appointed, the Vokkaligas refused to let their children eat here. Even the non-Dalit assistant cook refused to work. Now only the 18 Dalit children eat here," he said. As a compromise solution, Chaluvaraju even promised that the head cook would only supervise the cooking, but the upper-caste-dominated SDMC was adamant.

"Today the government says that you must eat food cooked by a Dalit. Tomorrow they will ask what is wrong with a Dalit marrying an upper-caste person. We must curb this at the initial stage," K. Devarajan, an SDMC member, said, justifying the boycott. "We have preserved our caste traditions for hundreds of years. Why should we break it now?" he asked.

In some schools, resourceful school administrations have successfully negotiated anti-Dalit caste sentiments without actually confronting them. Mahesh, the Headmaster of the Government Higher Primary School in Emmiggere, has asked Sowbhagya, the assistant cook in his school who is a Dalit, not to participate in the actual cooking. She cleans and washes the rice, washes the empty vessels, and does other odd jobs, but does not touch the food vessels. "If she had been involved in the cooking, there would have been problems," he said. "Our teachers have assured the village that there will be no caste contamination," he added.

This is precisely how the Headmaster of the school in Thoreshettahalli is also dealing with the problem. "We have told the upper-caste people in the village that the head cook will only supervise the cooking," he said. K.C. Gowramma, the head cook, is more than willing to go along. "I'll do anything they ask me," she told Frontline. "My own children study in this school."

"The bisi oota scheme can also be used as a way of confronting and eliminating caste discrimination," said T.H. Giridhar, a member of the SDMC in Thorashettahalli. "To the extent that caste and the practice of untouchability have been exposed by the new scheme, they have also been weakened," he added. A public campaign of education against caste discrimination, if made part of the mid-day meal programme, may offer the only assurance of making the programme fully effective.

Source: Frontline, August 01, 2003