School kids skip mid-day meal cooked by Dalit woman

Schoolchildren of Valiyampura village in Talod taluka of Sabarkantha district have been skipping mid-day meal for the past few weeks, apparently because it is cooked by a Dalit woman who was appointed as a helper in the school only last month.

The woman alleges that students of other castes have refused to eat the food prepared by her as asked by their parents.

The primary school of Valiyampura village has about 176 students. Of the 1,000-odd people living in the village, most are Patels and Thakores. There are around 20 households of Dalits.

According to Bhavna Jasubhai Vankar (42), students have stopped eating the mid-day meal ever since she joined on December 26, 2012.

"The villagers do not want me to touch the vessels I clean because of my caste. After I took the charge as a helper, the students refused to eat. Today, only those students who are from my caste eat," Vankar said on phone.

When contacted, principal Jayantibhai Patel, who is on leave, said the situation had improved but added that angry villagers had threatened him after Bhavnaben's appointment and declared they would stop sending their children to the school.

"I sent a report on this to the my senior officials. I also told the villagers that Bhavnaben was just a helper appointed by the mamlatdar. But they did not listen and their children refused eating. But now I have come to know that the situation is better," he said.

Sabarkantha collector Shah Meena Husain said the incident was being probed. She said a team of senior officials had visited the school and recorded the statement of Bhavnaben. "We are verifying facts. My officials have told me there is no truth to the allegations. She (Bhavna) had been absent from the school for a few days. At present, the school does not have any problem. We will take action against the guilty if we find any truth in the allegations," she said.

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