Roughly a month back, students of a Karnataka government school were being prevented from eating the mid-day meal by their parents as the food was cooked by a Dalit woman.
All those who wondered if this case was just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to casteist, sexist politics in state-run schools, were unfortunately right. Another incident in Bihar is proof of it.
Unlike the Karnataka incident where children didn't eat the cooked food, this Gopalganj school fell prey to the strong-arm tactics of the locals who forced a woman to not cook meals in the school. Reason? 36-year-old Sunita Kunwar is a widow, and people alleged that consuming food cooked by her would be a bad omen and bring in bad luck.
A report on The Telegraph states that when Kunwar appealed to the district administration to enable her to work in the school, all hell broke loose. About 150 people in the Kalyanpur village stormed the school premises, forced the teachers, students and staff out and started shouting slogans. They also locked the school gates and loudly demanded that the woman be not allowed to cook as a part of the six member team which prepares mid day meals.
This incident occurred a couple of months back and since then Sunita has been out of work.
However, there's more to the incident than meets the eye. A group of men initially wanted Sunita removed from the job of the cook as they 'questioned her character'.
A report on ManoramaOnline says, "According to officials, after being pressurised by the villagers, the school committee had removed Sunita and appointed Babita Devi as new cook. Sunita's character was also questioned by the villagers."
The Telegraph report indicates that the same villagers who had helped her find the job, suddenly turned against her and started started levelling allegations of promiscuity against her. Though that is no valid reason to fire someone for a job, the school had to let Sunita go as there was 'mounting pressure' from the locals.
Kunwar, however, was not ready to give up. "I am being victimised as I am a widow. I have to look after my two minor children. I am fighting my battle alone and running from one office to another to get justice for the past 21 months," she told Telegraph.
"They accused me of being a woman of easy virtue, an allegation I have always denied. Even my close relatives (husband's brothers) refused to help me," she added.
She has now appealed to the district magistrate and the new principal of the school has been directed to reinstate her by the district authorities. He has promised to do so.
However, the villagers too are unwilling to give up and have vowed to fight her appointment tooth and nail. They went to the extent of justifying themselves. "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," a villager told The Telegraph.
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