Casteism shunted her out from kitchens in 5 schools: The 6th time, Paappal said no

For the 42-year-old Paappal, the caste discrimination that surrounds her transfer is nothing new.
Casteism shunted her out from kitchens in 5 schools: The 6th time, Paappal said no
Casteism shunted her out from kitchens in 5 schools: The 6th time, Paappal said no
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Paappal’s heart is filled with happiness. Around a hundred people visited her house in Thirumalai Goundenpalayam in Avinashi taluk on Sunday and ate the food she had cooked, praising her for her skills. Not only did they eat, they also spent some time chatting with her family.

This was in stark contrast to the incident that happened last week in the Government High School, Thirumalai Goundenpalayam in Avinashi taluk.

Paappal works in the school as a cook, preparing the midday meals for the students who study there. Last week, a group of parents staged a protest in front of the school, opposing Paappal cooking food for their children. They claimed that their children, who belong to the Gounder community, a dominant caste group in the region, should not eat the food cooked by a person belonging to the Scheduled Caste. They demanded that the school remove the cook immediately, failing which they would not send their children to school anymore. At one point, they even asked the students to come out of the classrooms and locked the doors of the school to prevent the institution from functioning.

This is not new for 42-year-old Paappal.

“Incidents like this made me move five schools in the last 12 years that I have been working as a midday meal cook,” she says.

Paappal started working as a midday meal cook in 2006 in a government school situated in a village away from Thirumalai Goundenpalayam. She has been transferred five times since, to schools in and around Thirumalai Goundenpalayam due to her caste. Paappal belongs to a sub-sect of the Arundathiyar community, which is a Scheduled Caste in Tamil Nadu.

There was a pattern to how she was transferred every time, she says.

“Every time, a group of people would come and give a letter or hold a protest in front of the school. (They) will create a small issue and the headmaster or headmistress will go along with the demand and inform the Block Development Officer (BDO) who will issue a transfer order,” she says.

This time around, it was a little different. Not only was the crowd bigger than anything she had seen so far, she also recognised a few faces among the crowd who were protesting for her ouster. There were seven faces in the crowd, which she says, who had led the protest seven years ago in Thirumalai Goundenpalayam, during her earlier short stint in this school.

“I remember their faces clearly from seven years back, since they had created an issue about how a person like me could cook food that was to be eaten by their children. They used casteist slurs while referring to me. I had to transfer out from that school because of them. They made it a point to get me out of the school the last time,” she adds.

Like every other time, Paappal was allegedly given a transfer order by the Block Development Officer, who caved in to the pressure from the members of the dominant caste. But, this time, she refused to receive the order. She stood her ground and instead chose to inform the police about the incident.

“I had to inform the police because I have suffered through the past twelve years and cannot tolerate this anymore. I don’t want to go anywhere else from Thirumalai Goundenpalayam since this is where I was born and brought up. Hence I complained to the police about how people from the dominant caste have been saying that what I cook is impure and not letting me work in the school.”

Though the Cheyur police acted on her complaint and filed an FIR naming around 80 people under various sections of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, there has been no progress.

The National Commission for Scheduled Castes has also issued a notice to the District Collector, Superintendent of Police and the Chief Education Officer of Tiruppur to appear for a hearing on July 30 regarding the actions taken under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities Act), 2015.

Avinashi Deputy Superintendent of Police, Paramasamy, spoke to TNM and said no arrests had been made in this case, despite an FIR being filed against over 80 of them.

“They are all absconding and we have not yet traced them. So no arrests have been made yet,” he claimed. He also added that no case has been registered on the BDO, who allegedly issued the transfer order to Paappal under pressure from members of the dominant caste.

Meanwhile, the news of the incident spread like wildfire and many activists and anti-caste groups came out in support of Paappal. There has not been any issue since Friday, she says.

Ramakrishnan, the General Secretary of Thanthai Periyar Dravidar Kazhagam, which organised the feast on Sunday, told TNM that the gesture was to prove that they did not consider Paapaal to be any different from others.

“We wanted to show that there is nothing wrong in eating the food cooked by her, as opposed to what the mob considered. So we took groceries to her house on Sunday and asked her to cook for all of us. It was an attempt to show that human beings are all equal and that there is no impurity in the food cooked by her,” he said.

Overwhelmed by the gesture, Paappal says that she is determined to fight it out this time.

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