Students skip mid-day meal made by Dalit help

Schoolchildren of Valiyampura village in 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. 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," Vankar said on phone. The primary school has about 176 students.

When contacted, principal Jayantibhai Patel said the situation had improved but added that angry villagers had threatened him after Vankar's appointment and declared they would stop sending their children to the school. "I sent a report to the senior officials. I also told the villagers that Bhavnaben was just a helper. But they did not listen and their children refused eating," he said.

Sabarkantha Collector Shah Meena Husain said a team of senior officials had visited the school and recorded the statement of Vankar. "My officials have told me there is no truth to the allegations. She had been absent from the school for a few days. We will take action against the guilty if we find any truth in the allegations," she said.

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