Dalit cook back at Uttarakhand school, authorities say you just have to follow the “rules”
THEY call the post “bhojanmata”. It was the highest honor Sunita Devi has ever received. This lasted for seven days, after which the Dalit cook at Swatantra Sangram Senani Late Shri Ram Chandra Government Inter College in Jaul village in Champawat district of Uttarakhand was left unemployed following protests.
Shortly after a complaint was filed by Sunita under the SC / ST Law and IPC Section 506 (Criminal Intimidation) on Friday, the district administration announced that she would be reinstated.
Champawat’s Director General of Education (CEO) RC Purohit said Sunita would start working from January 16 after the winter break. “Previously, she had been fired because the proper procedure for her appointment had not been followed,” he said. “Now she has been reinstated after a proper procedure.”
Sunita, 32, said she received information about her reinstatement. “I hope this time there won’t be a problem,” she said, adding: “I am both optimistic and uncertain.”
Parents who opposed Sunita’s appointment invoked a “violation” rule. However, principal Prem Singh, himself a Dalit, pointed out that the school, with a majority of upper caste students, has not had a Dalit as a cook in the 10 years it has occupied, despite the official criteria for the position favoring “a non-general meeting (category)”.
The hunt for a new cook had started in October when one of the two who prepared midday meals for students in grades 6 through 8 (school is until grade 12) retired. Singh said he advertised locally on October 28 and that six people – five from the general category and one from a listed caste – applied.
“The rule for the appointment is that the person must be BPL. But none of the six passed this criterion. I informed the school management committee (SMC, which includes parents) and the parents’ association that we need to invite more applications. The previous announcement also did not mention that the SC, ST and OBC candidates would be given priority. Therefore, a new advertisement was released on November 12 and we received five applications, ”said Prem Singh.
After that, the headmaster said, a four-member committee chose Sunita Devi, whose two children are studying at the school, after finding that she meets all the requirements.
But PTA chairman Narendra Joshi declined to sign the nomination. Headmaster Singh claimed that in a meeting he was not present at, Joshi was supported by other relatives, opposing a Dalit cook. “Agitated by this, other members of the SC community came out. Those who stayed agreed on the name Pushpa Bhatt, which belongs to the general category.
Singh said the rules require that if a Dalit is not chosen for a job, an NOC must be obtained from all applicants regarding the alternate name. While the NOCs were expected, on December 4 Sunita’s name was sent to the Block Education Officer for approval. As the school urgently needed a cook, Sunita started working on December 13.
About two or three days later, the boycott began, with more than 40 general class students refusing to eat the meal she cooked. On December 20, Sunita was ordered not to come.
A few days later, the school’s 21 Dalit students retaliated by refusing to eat the meal prepared by Vimlesh, the other cook, claiming she was a Brahmin.
Purohit said the children refused to eat the food not because of caste prejudice, but because of an “ego struggle” over the date. “The appointment of bhojanmata is carried out by the director and the SMC. Later, the approval is given by the deputy head of education, ”Purohit said, adding that Principal Singh was wrong to look for more names after the first round of selection.
At the same time, the CEO admitted that the caste division was ingrained among the students. “It was not easy for us to make them understand… In the end, they listen to their parents more.
Located about 27 km from Tanakpur tehsil, Inter College has 66 students enrolled up to grade 8, who are entitled to a midday meal. Among them, 45 belong to the general category, while 21 are Dalits.
PTA chairman Joshi accepted caste prejudice in the Brahmin-dominated region with a two-thirds majority. However, he pointed out, the boycott started mainly because of the principal’s appointment of Sunita despite the parents agreeing on another name, Pushpa Bhatt. According to him, Bhatt had a higher claim to the post as a BPL like Sunita, besides being a single mother and therefore “worse”.
Sunita, mother of boys in grades 6 and 8 respectively, says that with her husband who does odd jobs losing income as a result of the Covid lockdown, the salary of Rs 3,000 per month as a school cook had saved his life. Accusing the administration of being pressured, she says that on the second day of her job, residents, including parents, gathered at the school and staged a protest.
“We had prepared the daal-chawal. About 20 to 25 of them arrived before lunchtime. I have heard them say that my cooking disrespects them. When the lunch started, several children from the upper castes boycotted it. Some convinced others to boycott as well, ”Sunita said, adding that the children only did as they were told.
When asked if Sunita would be accepted by parents now, Purohit said, “We cannot say this with confidence.” He added: “Their main problem was the illegal appointment and they shouldn’t have any problem now. If some people create a ruckus, legal action should be taken against them. “
Based on Sunita’s complaint, one case was registered against 30 people. Champawat SP Devendra Pincha said all of the accused are from Sukhidang and surrounding villages and no arrests have been made so far.
More than herself, Sunita said, she felt sorry for her two sons. “They never knew about these caste divisions, but now, after my humiliation, they started to inquire about these things. They must have felt bad. Anyone would.