Except for national holidays including Independence Day, Mahantesh takes pride in saying that he is the president of the Government Higher Primary School in Todarnalu, Chitradurga district. This is because although rules state that the president of the SDMC must hoist the flag, he has never been allowed to, except for once.
Mahantesh (42), who belongs to Adi Karnataka caste (a Scheduled Caste), alleges that he has never been ‘allowed’ to hoist the national flag at the school since he was elected as the head of the SDMC in 2013. SDMCs are associations of parents which monitor the academic and the developmental aspects of government schools.
It was only last year, that Mahantesh discovered why the villagers requested him to allow an elderly person of the village do it instead of him.
Caste politics, was played out so subtly that he believed that he was letting one of the villagers hoist the flag out of respect. “They had never directly said that a Dalit must not do the honours. It was the first time on August 15, 2016, they expressed their objection to me hoisting the flag.”
In his first year as SDMC president, he said that the then headmaster would choose a person from the village for the flag hoisting.
“I signed the resolution every time. I wanted to raise the question during the meeting before Republic Day 2016, but an old teacher was called to do the honours. As an alumni of the school, I didn’t want to oppose it.”
However, on August 15, 2015, he hoisted the flag. A new headmaster had just taken charge and there was nobody to have a formal resolution passed. So he took advantage of the situation had hoisted the flag that year.
“I faced repercussions. Many Lingayat youths told me that what I did was wrong. Since then there have been rumours that I drink,” he said.
This year there was some tension. As the SDMC president, he called for a meeting on August 9 to make arrangements for Independence Day. No one turned up. “When the meeting was held on August 12, the villagers again said that Devendrappa, an elderly person, should do the honours. I disagreed but when 50 Lingayat youths are forcing me to sign the resolution, what can I do but sign?” he asked.
Mahantesh signed, but raised the issue with the Block Education Officer Thimmaiah, visited the village on the evening of August 14. “Thimmaiah said that as the head of the SDMC, I should hoist the tricolour. And he gave it in writing,” he said.
Thimmaiah told The News Minute that he was called to the school on August 14 to clarify on who can hoist the flag. "According to the rules, it is the SDMC president who should technically hoist the flag. In case the president is not attending the function, the responsibility shifts to the headmaster. They can also invite someone to hoist the flag. This is what I gave in writing."
On August 15, Headmaster Mohan Kumar had gone for the parade around the village. “Some Lingayat youths asked the media to stop recording. It was then a person in the group said that they would not enter the school premises if I hoisted the flag. I was disgusted at the narrowmindedness of these Lingayats,” he said.
Mahantesh let the elderly man selected by the villagers hoist the flag, as the function must not be delayed or stopped because of some narrow-minded people.
After the media caught on to these events, Mahantesh says that many villagers tried to downplay the issue. “They don’t want their caste hatred to come out. Some newspapers have published quotes from people who claim to be my relatives, saying that we all are living in peace and there is no such hatred towards Dalits,” he said.