Political parties in Bihar elections may have attempted to outshine each other in proving who was the better messiah for the upliftment of dalits in India.
But, in an another Indian state, Karnataka, a school has just experienced a mass exodus of students after the administration appointed a dalit cook for mid-day meals.
Radhamma(pictured above) is a Scheduled Caste, and the condition to retain her job as the head cook has been that she not make food.
A news published in Indian Express says that there were 118 students at the school in January 2014. But since Radhamma’s appointment in February 2014, 100 have left. The remaining 18 continue on the condition, that Radhamma not make the mid-may meal.
The administration has now decided to do away with the mid-day meals at the school.
“Despite the efforts of elected representatives, IAS officers and others in the region, villagers refuse to send their children to the school. We cannot understand their behaviour,” Block Education Officer N Devaraj was quoted by Indian Express.
School headmaster Y V Venkatachalapathi blames “village politics” for the situation at the school.
He said,“Its strength fell from 118 to 58 in June 2014 itself. It fell further to 18 by June 2015… Parents come to the school and demand transfer certificates. They abuse me if I try to convince them not to take their wards out.”
There’s a real danger that under the only school of the village will soon close down. Under the Karnataka government rules, a school can be shut down if it has less than 10 students.
Radhamma has been maintaining her diary for the last five months with her note consisting of just four words’ No one ate today.’
She says 58 students would eat meals cooked by her when she joined, but 51 of these were “forced to leave” by the end of 2014 by their parents. The remaining left in 2015.
Radhamma says, “All the students have left due to pressure from the upper castes in the village. Nobody is willing to have food prepared by me. Even students belonging to my caste have been forced to leave the school.”
The literacy rate in Kagganahalli village is 66.75 per cent, lower than the state average of 75.36 per cent. Kagganahalli resident Channarayappa, who himself belongs to a Scheduled Tribe, says his own nephew Gunasekhara has left the village school and shifted to Vaddahhali’s. “The people of the village created problems over the appointment of the Dalit cook. The number of teachers also dwindled.”
The low number of students meant that the vacancies have not been filled.
Babureddy, who belongs to an upper caste, justifies the mass departure from the school. “People are angry over (Radhamma’s) appointment,” he says.
Another resident from upper caste, Thippanna says, he understands why this happened. “How can people tolerate a Dalit woman cooking for their children? I feel very bad for the school.”