Lucknow: In yet another case of caste discrimination in the Mid Day Meal Scheme in Uttar Pradesh (UP), parents of Dalit students studying in the Gaderi gram panchayat of Amethi district complained on Thursday that their children were segregated during the lunch hour.
Jagnarayan and Sonu, residents of Gaderi village, complained to the Sangrampur Police Station that the principal of Vanpurwa Government Primary School segregated their children and other Dalit/OBC students from others during the lunch hour.
The couple told Newsclick that a few students had complained to their parents of being forced to sit in separate lines. The parents, who confirmed the segregation from multiple students and staff, alleged that the school management first ignored their complaint but later asked the students to sit in different queues. The parents also accused the principal of beating up the students and passing casteist slurs.
“It has been going for the last several months. School principal Kusum Soni not makes Dalit and upper-caste students to sit separately but also beats up my children without any reason. Initially, we thought that our children misunderstood the matter. But they continued to complain of discrimination and physical assault. Subsequently, a group of Dalit parents met the village head and he took us to the local police station,” Jagnarayan told Newsclick, adding that the “Dalit students won’t be able to attend the school if the situation continues”.
Narrating the incident, Kavita (name changed), a student of class four, said that the principal would often beat her up and other students and make casteist comments without a reason. “We are always made to sit separately when meals are served. Our headmistress beats us up every time we commit a small mistake or are late though she never arrives on time,” she alleged.
The village head, Vinay Kumar Jaiswal, told Newsclick that the parents told him that “the principal segregated their children from the upper-caste students. I accompanied the parents to the school but the principal not present. The students informed me that she is always late but beats up the students if they arrive on time”.
Based on the complaint of the parents and Jaiswal, the Sangrampur police have registered a first information report (FIR) against Soni under the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act, 2018.
However, Soni, who has been suspended, denied the allegations and filed a complaint against Jaiswal and his representative Pawan Dubey for causing ruckus on the premises by pushing the students and teachers outside the school and locking the gates.
“The complaints against me are baseless. I treat the students equally and take care of them as my own children. One Pawan Dubey, claiming to be the village head’s representative, pushed everyone out and locked the gates, clicked pictures and posted them on social media to defame me. I have filed a complaint against him and the village head,” she told Newsclick.
“The majority of the students belong to the Scheduled Castes (SCs) and the Other Backward Classes with only from the general category. I was strictly following the COVID-19 norms and made the students sit in different lines to maintain social distancing. Unfortunately, people mistook it for caste discrimination,” Soni claimed.
The matter came to light after the school’s photo, apparently shot by Jaiswal, was widely shared on social media. Basic Shiksha Adhikari Arvind Pathak said he got to know about the incident when someone sent a screenshot of the picture to him. He visited the school and also met the parents who had alleged discrimination against their children. “The school principal Soni was suspended and an FIR registered against her under the Act,” he told Newsclick.
Cases of caste discrimination at government schools are surfacing in the state despite the Yogi Adityanath government’s strict warnings to teachers and other staff that they would face legal action if such instances are found.
“Isn’t an irony that the Yogi government inducted Dalits and OBCs as ministers but Dalit students are being asked to wash Mid Day Meal utensils and keep them in a separate place and made to sit in separate lines? If this is the foundation of education and Dalit students are treated like this, there is no hope,” Abhinav, member, Dalit Foundation, told Newsclick.
In a similar case at a school in Mainpuri district, some SC students had complained that they were asked to wash their utensils and keep them separately. The principal was suspended and two cooks were terminated.
Atrocities against Dalits in UP have become common. On Thursday, a teenage Dalit boy and girl were shamed publicly by some fellow villagers who blackened their faces and paraded them over their alleged affair. The mob also shaved their heads and forced them to wear garlands of shoes. Around 15 villagers were arrested.