The simple act of one man — in this case the district magistrate — has helped overcome years of superstition in a district in Bihar. When a widowed woman was sacked from her job as a cook in the local government school — the villagers did not want a widow, considered a bad omen, cooking food for their children — the area's district magistrate Rahul Kumar decided to sit in public and eat a meal prepared by her.
Later, he tweeted out some photos of the meal, saying: "Sometimes you do symbolic things to overcome people's beliefs".
The woman, Sunita Kuwar (36), whose job was to cook the mid-day meals meals for the students in Kalyanpur government middle school in Barauli in Bihar's Gopalganj district, was sacked under flimsy pretexts. The real reason, Sunita claimed, was her widowhood, which the villagers considered a bad omen for children. She approached Kumar, the Gopalganj DM, for help who went to the school and joined the children to eat a mid-day meal prepared by her.
Sometimes u do symbolic things to overcome people's beliefs. Asked the same widow cook to serve me the meal. pic.twitter.com/SoHXueqqRv— DM Gopalganj (@rahulias6) December 18, 2015
This finally dispelled the villagers' superstitious beliefs and Sunita got her job back. Sunita, who has two children, earns a thousand rupees per month which helps support her family.
Initially, after she was removed from her job, Sunita's character was questioned by a few villagers and she sought the help of the Kalyanpur panchayat head. When the Panchayat head talked to the then principal, Pushpa Kumari, the latter expressed helplessness due to mounting pressure by the villagers. Pushpa, who had appointed Sunita, bluntly told The Telegraph: "I took pity on her as she was a widow. But the situation has changed and she was removed."
Sunita then approached the district administration for help who sent orders for her reinstatement to the school. However, the reaction of the villagers to this news was alarming. They stormed the school and locked it and made sure no mid-day meal was served.
Also read: Bihar Villagers Stop Woman From Cooking Midday Meal. The Reason Will Take You Back To The Stone Age
The villagers living in the shadows of this dark belief felt as Shiv Bihari Singh, a Kalyanpur resident echoed, "We will not allow a widow to prepare midday meal for our kids. This is a bad omen. We fear a repeat of the Gandaman incident in neighbouring Saran district where 23 children died after eating a contaminated meal in 2013."
After Sunita recounted her story to the Gopalganj DM Rahul Kumar, he promised to help her and assuaged the villagers' fears by eating a meal prepared by her. “We have ensured that Sunita Kuwar is reinstated and asked villagers not to make any allegations against her without any proof. Villagers were also tacitly warned of legal action if they continue to harass the cook,” Kumar told The Indian Express.
Some misled villagers opposed a widow cook and threatened to withdraw their Children from school after she was rightfully reinstated.— DM Gopalganj (@rahulias6) December 18, 2015
Commendation is pouring in from across the country and abroad for Rahul Kumar and his unique solution to counter the blind beliefs evident in Gopalganj — sentiments which are echoed in many villages in the interiors of India as well.
Brilliant the way this DM overcame local superstitions against widows https://t.co/XxqyLDybKw— Shekhar Kapur (@shekharkapur) December 19, 2015
@rahulias6 greetings from Australia ,this story made my day ,God bless you all.— Warrier (@joby76) December 20, 2015
+1. They said: widow can't cook mid-day meal. The DM said she WILL cook the meal--and he ate it too, with the kids. https://t.co/0Y85LsQVwJ— Prasanto K Roy (@prasanto) December 19, 2015
I wish India had many more officers like @rahulias6 . He is a role model for the society.— Ambar Bandopadhyay (@ambarindia) December 18, 2015
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