Video: Dalit Woman Puts Up a Feisty Fight, Now Just A Number in The List of Midday Meal Cooks Pushed Out by Upper Castes
“One year of Una is not far and now this happens in Gujarat. Dalit woman, Prbha ben vala and her kid are thrown around like a piece of rag. As per the information that we r receiving she is working in government scheme of Madhyan-bhojan(mid day meal) at local school of Vanthali block of Junagadh district of Gujarat. Here she was discriminated. Now this video is coming out.”
This is a Facebook post by Jignesh Mevani that has put the spotlights on the woman Prabhaben Vala ( and her six year old child who is seen terrified and distressed in the video) who was working as the middday meal supervisor at a primary school in village Ghantiya, Junagadh district of Gujarat. The villagers wanted her to be removed after being in the school for ten years, and the Principal had been refusing to sign her daily reports, and basically giving her grief. Locals said that the wife of a new sarpanch wanted to become the supervisor hence the pressure on the police to get rid of Vala
This is not the first case of its kind, with Dalits being harassed and discriminated constantly under the umbrella of mid day meals in schools. A few incidents:
Nov 2015: A Dalit woman Radhamma was removed as a cook for the midday meals as parents protested, and started removing their children. She was the head cook at the government higher primary school in Kagganahalli village in Kolar. Of the 118 students when she joined as a cook in the 2014, 100 left with only 18 remaining and that too on the condition that meals cooked by her should not be served to them. She retained her job, just about, by agreeing not to cook the mid day meals.The parents incidentally included elected representatives of the people, and bureaucrats.
Oct 2016: 9 years ago a Dalit widow Phool Kumari Rawat was thrown out of her job in a government school in Bibipur, a short distance from Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh as upper caste parents did not want a Dalit cook. She was not even given the remaining one months pay. Her story was resurrected now because an enterprising reporter went in search of her, to find how she had fared. And as expected she was living below the poverty line, with her sons unable to find jobs and working as labourers to eke a living. She lives close to the school but told the scribe that she does not even look that way, as there is no point in getting into an altercation with the upper caste people. She has never tried for a school job again, going back to working as labour in the fields.
Jan 2017: The children of a government school in Tikamgarh, Madhya Pradesh, efused to consume mid-day meal cooked by a Dalit woman according to a news report. When asked, the children said the food is being prepared at home by a woman, who doesn't belong to their community."We don't eat the meal because it is prepared by the women from Banskar community. Only Banskar community people consumes the food," Muskan, a student said.
The Dalit woman, who is appointed to prepare mid-day for the school children, said: "Only 12 students came to my home and ate their meal while the others left allegedly and boycotted the meal saying 'we don't want to have food here as you hail from a lower caste'."
Several incidents have been recorded by sections of the media, but as activists point out, there are “so many more” that no one even talks about. A scheme to empower Dalit women by employing them as cooks for midday meals in schools has run into trouble because of opposition from the upper castes. The pattern in the recorded instances is the same. The cook is employed, the village protests, the woman is sacked. The variations are of the duration perhaps, the pattern is the same. Whenever the opposition begins the Dalit woman finds it impossible to keep her job, despite the feisty woman in the video who ended up crying. Often the upper castes bolster the case with allegations against the “character” of the Dalit woman.