In Mainpuri school, first lesson for Scheduled Caste students: Keep your plates apart

Sixty of the 80 children at Daudapur Government Primary School in Mainpuri district of Uttar Pradesh belong to Scheduled Castes. But it was only when a complaint was made recently that officials discovered that the utensils that these children used for their mid-day meals were kept apart on the premises, and washed by the children themselves.

After officials visited the school in Bewar block, Headmistress Garim Rajput was suspended on Friday. The two cooks were relieved of their duties after they said they “could not touch” utensils used by the SC students.

Mainpuri Basic Shiksha Adhikari (BSA) Kamal Singh said the complaint of caste discrimination at the school, made by the husband of the newly elected sarpanch Manju Devi, had been found to be true.

“We received a complaint regarding this on Wednesday and a team was sent to the school to carry out an inspection,” he said. “The utensils used by the Scheduled Caste children and other children were kept separately. The Block Development Officer and other officials visited the school. During the visit, the cooks Somvati and Laxmi Devi refused to touch the utensils of the Scheduled Caste students, and said they can’t work at the school if they were forced to do so. They also used caste slurs,” Singh said, adding that action against the cooks had been taken by the School Management Committee.

Sarpanch Manju Devi’s husband Sahab Singh said some parents had told him about the discriminatory practice on September 15. “On September 18, I went to the school for a meeting. I saw the kitchen was dirty and that only 10-15 plates were kept there. I asked the cooks where the other thaalis were, and they said the ones in the kitchen belonged to Backward and General Category students, while 50-60 thaalis were kept separately. I was also told that students belonging to Scheduled Castes were forced to wash their own dishes and keep them, as no one belonging to other castes was willing to touch them,” Sahab Singh said, adding that after he complained, local journalists and officials took up the matter.

Sahab Singh said while around 35% of the population of the village is Dalit, the Thakurs make up a similar number, with the rest belonging to Backward Classes.

Mainpuri is Samajwadi Party founder Mulayam Singh Yadav’s bastion. Shubham Singh, who won a Mainpuri zila panchayat seat backed by the SP, said he had visited the village. “The BJP makes big claims of Dalit upliftment. They give token posts to some leaders from the community, but this is the reality of UP… decades after Dr B R Ambedkar faced such issues in his school days.”

Since the action was taken by officials, several videos have been doing the rounds of social media, of children of Daudapur school using a handpump to wash their thaalis, of children talking of keeping their utensils apart from those of the others in their classrooms, and of a Dalit parent saying he had raised the issue. In the video, the parent says, “Yahaan bachche aate hain, yahaan bartan dhulwaye jaate hain. Master log dhulwaate hain. Maine khud dekha hai. Master se kaha, unhone ansuni kar di. Bachchon ne bhi bataya, ghar pe bhi bataya (Children come here, they are made to wash utensils. The teachers make them do it. I have seen it myself. I told the teacher, but he ignored me. The children talk about it, at home too).”

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