Following the incident of caste-based discrimination against a cook from the Dalit community, Karur district collector Prabhushankar visited the Panchayat Union Primary School on Tuesday, September 5. In a symbolic gesture of solidarity, the collector had his breakfast served at the school by Sumathi, who belongs to the Arunthathiyar community, which is categorised as Scheduled Caste. The Collector made a surprise visit to the school after half the students did not avail the newly-introduced free breakfast scheme in government schools, as the cook belonged to a Dalit community. He then interacted with the parents warning them of the consequences if they continued to discriminate against the government-appointed cook.
The incident took place in the Panchayat Union Primary School located in Velanchettiyur village near Aravakurichi, Karur district. The school has 27 students. According to authorities, some parents belonging to the Backward Caste and Most Backward Caste communities refused to send their children to school and prevented them from eating the government-provided breakfast, solely because the food was cooked by a Dalit woman.
As per news reports, more than three Backward Communities opposed Sumathi preparing the food, and declared a boycott against her. Following this, District Collector Prabhushankar and the authorities from the Education Department made a surprise visit to the school.
During his interaction with the stakeholders, a man from the Thottia Naiker community (Most Backward Caste) protested against Sumathi and said that if she continued to work there, his kids would not eat the food.This led to a heated argument following which the collector directed the police to take him to the police station.
Speaking to TNM, Prabhushankar said, “The issue came to our knowledge after we found out that half of the students did not have their breakfast at the school for a couple of days since the scheme was launched. When one of our officials went there and inquired about the matter, we came to know there was an underlying issue between Caste Hindus and Arunthathiyars and they oppose Sumathi continuing as a cook.”
“During the discussion, most parents agreed to send their children to avail the breakfast scheme, except one man from Thottia Naiker community. He insisted that he would not allow his kids to have breakfast.”
The Collector disclosed that he was taken to the police station where he was warned for practicing caste discrimination against the woman, and the action that could be initiated against him under the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. He was later let off. “But, if the people fail to comply again, the district administration would definitely take stringent action against the perpetrators,” he assured.
TNM learnt that the district administration warned the parents about the consequences if they failed to allow their kids to eat breakfast at the school and continued to discriminate against Sumathi.
The new breakfast initiative was introduced by Chief Minister MK Stalin on August 25 for students of class 1 to 5. A total of 17 lakh students across the state would be benefited under the scheme. The Tamil Nadu government has allocated Rs 404.41 crores towards this scheme.