In Uttarakhand School, Students Once Again Boycott Midday Meals Cooked by Dalit Woman

Last December, the hiring, firing and re-hiring of Sunita as cook at a government school – under pressure from parents of 'upper' caste students – had made news. The same school is seeing a repeat of the casteist boycott.

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New Delhi: An Uttarakhand government school which had made news last year after ‘upper’ caste students had refused to eat midday meals cooked by a Dalit woman has seen a repeat of the same row recently, Indian Express has reported.

In December last year, The Wire had reported how parents of students in a government school in Sukhidhang village of Uttarkhand’s Champawat district had pressurised the school to stop employing Sunita one day into her new job as a bhojan mata (literally, ‘mother cook’). Holders of this government post are supposed to cook midday meals for students.

“I was asked not to cook for children because I am a Dalit. It was so humiliating. But they (parents) were so adamant. I have nowhere to go seek justice for my job and dignity,” Sunita had then told The Wire.

The school has 230 students and mid-day meals were at that point offered to 66 students who were studying in junior classes.

Also read: Meet the Dalit Cook in Rural UP Whose Food Goes Untouched

Champawat district officials terminated her services in the aftermath of the controversy. The story had made national news. Eventually, when Sunita filed a complaint under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and Section 506 (criminal intimidation) of the Indian Penal Code, she was brought back.

Sunita’s pay is Rs 3,000 a month. The job promised her a steady income to support her two children and an ailing, unemployed husband.

Now, Indian Express has reported that around seven or eight students have once again refused to eat food cooked by Sunita.

The principal of the school and Champawat District Magistrate Narender Singh Bhandari have held successive meetings with parents of these students in an effort to convince them to eat their meals. The students have also been threatened with expulsion.  Officials themselves also ate a meal at the school in a show of solidarity.

Sunita herself confirmed to Express that a few students were boycotting food prepared by her but noted that she was unbothered by this. “I have been asked to cook meals only for those willing to eat,” she told the news outlet.