A host of Dalit women, who cook food for children at noon meal centres attached to schools in various villages in Kadayampatti Union in Salem district, say they are facing a social boycott.
Caste Hindus in a few villages are preventing their children from having the noon meal cooked by Dalit women cooks, claiming that it is “a sin to eat food cooked by them.”
The government-appointed Dalit women cooks, under the MGR Nutritious Noon Meal Scheme on a temporary monthly pay of Rs. 1300-3000, are not allowed to do their job.
“I feel like dying,’ said S. Sundaravanitha, a Dalit woman cook, who had been facing boycott since her appointment on August 16, 2012.
She told The Hindu here on Friday that she said she had been undergoing trauma since the day she was appointed as a cook at the Panchayat Union Elementary School at Rasipurathan Kattuvalavu village in Kadayampatti Union.
“From day one, I have been hounded and harassed. The Vanniyars-only village feel ‘ashamed’ to permit their children to have the food cooked by a Dalit,” she said. The village panchayat president also expressed his inability to help her.
After discussing it with local officials, the Salem district administration transferred her to the centre at the Union Middle School at Mookanur, which happened to be her native village, on deputation. But her woes were far from over. Since her village people knew that she was a Dalit, they too raised the caste issue against her.
“Of the total 75 students who used to have noon meal, only 20 students, a majority of whom are Dalits, now have food at the centre. Others have been forced to abstain. A few youths barged into the centre recently and abused me in filthy language,” she said with tears rolling down her cheeks.
An official in Kadayampatti Union said that to prevent any untoward incident, she was shifted from Rasipurathan village. “It is a sensitive issue. This village of Vanniyars strongly opposed her.
As Mookanur has an equal share of all castes, we believed that her appointment would not create any unpleasant situation there,” he said, adding that they had been facing similar situations in two other centres in the Union.
The Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi alleged that seven Dalit women cooks in Kadayampatti alone were facing social boycott.
Poomozhi of the Tamil Nadu People Rights Movement wanted action under SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act against those who promoted untouchability. The Democratic Youth Federation of India staged a demonstration on Saturday, demanding their arrest.