As many as 147 students from Other Backward Caste (OBC) communities, such as Koli, Bharwad, Thakor, and Gadhvi have not been eating the midday meal (MDM) being served at a school in Gujarat's Morbi since 16 June, allegedly because a Dalit woman was given the job of cooking the same, which has upset the parents of the students.
In light of the controversy that has begun since, officials from the education and revenue departments held a meeting with parents and teachers in Morbi district on Thursday, 4 August.
After media reports on the issue, a team comprising two education inspectors of Morbi taluk and deputy mamlatdar of MDM in Morbi visited the school, The Indian Express reported.
Bharat Vidja, incharge district primary education officer (DPEO) of Morbi, said, "The district collector also sent a deputy mamlatdar. The team held a meeting with teachers and parents in the presence of the MDM contractor and submitted a report."
'Children Prefer Home-Cooked Food': Probe Committee Member
The DPEO said, "As per the report of the inquiry committee, it is not an issue of caste bias. It is just that children are opting not to have the midday meal served in the school."
"The children carry their own lunchboxes and prefer to have home-cooked food during, instead of eating the midday meal at the school," a member of the probe committee was quoted as saying.
The school has around 153 students and 138 of them were present on Thursday.
The Dalit contractor's husband, according to The Indian Express, said, "On the first day, when the school reopened after the summer vacation, the principal told my wife to cook meals for 100 students. But only seven students of the Scheduled Castes turned up for the meal. On the second day, the principal asked her to prepare meals for 50 students… but only Dalit students ate it."
He claimed that after a while, the Dalit students also stopped eating the meal and the contractor was forced to stop cooking from the second week of July.
"This was not the case when an OBC person had the contract… Therefore, I complained to the mamlatdar and the police. They tried to persuade the parents but to no avail," he added.
'Parents Don't Want To Abandon Their Casteist Thinking': Principal
The sarpanch of the village also denied that the children were boycotting the meals for casteist reasons. "Not too many children were eating the meal at school previously also… Children say that they would eat the midday meal if they liked it. We can't force them to eat school meals only," the sarpanch said.
However, school principal Bindiya Ratnotar confirmed that the boycott was indeed happening and spoke about two meetings she held with the parents, The Times of India reported.
She said, "They do not want to abandon their casteist thinking. We can teach children not to have casteist attitudes and that all are equal and no one is untouchable. Sadly, we cannot convince their parents."
(With inputs from The Indian Express and The Times of India.)