Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Lessons in caste

School children discriminate at meal-time

Instead of removing poverty and teaching social equality, mid-day meal schemes seem to have become a vehicle for discrimination and oppression negating the rationale for which they were started. Last month a principal and teacher of a school in Madhya Pradesh prevented their wards from eating mid-day meals cooked by a Dalit woman. A few days ago, upper castes students at a primary school near Lucknow refused to have a meal with their Dalit classmates. Other incidents go unreported. Prejudices are probably better camouflaged in urban areas, but in villages oppression takes on a cruder form, with caste often acting as the trigger.

It is bad enough that adults discriminate along caste lines but it is shocking when the perpetrators are primary school children. These tender young minds are not born with caste distinctions, and yet thanks to the society they live in they pick up prejudices very quickly. What does this say about the values our system teaches? More than 50 years after the Directive Principles of State Policy were drafted, such instances as have recently been reported show how abjectly we have failed and how deep-rooted the caste system actually is. No amount of quotas and job reservations will help unless there is social awareness and a change in attitude towards caste demarcations. The first lessons in inculcating awareness must be taught by parents at home and by teachers at schools. But if they are the ones who persist in perpetuating prejudices and preaching discrimination, it is only natural that their children will imbibe these values and grow up bigoted. A conscious effort is needed to break this cycle. It isn’t just the state’s responsibility; every person needs to be involved. Only then can we call ourselves a civilised society.

Source: The Statesman, October 5, 2004

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