Dalit students of a government school in Uttarakhand’s Champawat district last week refused to eat mid-day meals made by an upper caste woman after a cook from the Scheduled Caste community was sacked, PTI reported on Sunday.

Sunita Devi, a Scheduled Caste cook, was sacked on Wednesday after 43 upper caste students of the school boycotted mid-day meal as a protest against her appointment. District authorities claimed that norms had been flouted in Devi’s appointment.

In retaliation, 23 Dalit students of the school refused to eat mid-day meals prepared by an upper caste cook.

The district administration, however, said that the matter had been resolved.

“I hope the Dalit students will resume eating the food prepared by the new Bhojan Mata (cook) from tomorrow,” Champawat District Magistrate Vineet Tomar said.

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Boycott of the Dalit cook

Sunita Devi had joined the school on December 13. She had replaced Shakuntala Devi, an upper caste woman.

Following her appointment, even parents of the upper caste students supported their boycott of the mid-day meals. They alleged that Sunita Devi was given preference over a deserving candidate, Pushpa Bhatt, who is a Brahmin, one of the upper castes.

The government then set up an inquiry into Sunita Devi’s appointment at the school. According to the rules, a cook’s appointment is subject to clearance from a sub-education officer. Prem Singh, the principal at the Government Inter College in Sukhidhang town did not get the necessary clearance, a state government official told PTI.

However, activists and human rights groups had criticised the decision.

“This is a social evil that upper caste students are boycotting the mid-day meal cooked by [a] Dalit woman,” PC Tiwari, the president of the Uttarakhand Parivartan Party said. “In this case, the authorities should appoint her again and set an example.”

Anita Arya, a local activist, said such discrimination will alienate those belonging to the Scheduled Caste.

“[A] Dalit woman should be given [the] opportunity to serve as bhojanmata if she fulfils the norms and parents of upper-caste students must understand that it will strengthen [the] relationship in the society,” she added.