Dehradun: The Dalit woman who was fired from her job at an Uttarakhand government school as a midday meal cook, allegedly on caste grounds, has filed an FIR under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act against some parents of upper caste students.
However, Sunita Devi told ThePrint she would be willing to take the case back if all the accused promised in writing that they would not do anything to incite caste discrimination in the village in future.
According to Devendra Pincha, Champawat superintendent of police (SP), an FIR was registered at Chalthi police chowki Thursday against six named persons and 20 unnamed individuals for allegedly using caste slurs against Sunita Devi and for criminal intimidation. “No one will be spared if found guilty of the charges made by the complainant,” the SP said.
While the FIR mentions Devi’s charge that the parents made abusive remarks about her caste, she said it does not include her allegation that the accused deliberately tried to create a caste divide among students.
Asked about her allegation, the SP said investigations were still on and the statements of the complainant as well as the accused would be recorded within the next few days. “The charges about the parents trying to create caste-based differences among the students can still be added if she makes her statement to the investigating officer,” the SP added.
The case caused widespread uproar earlier this month after it was alleged that Sunita Devi was fired because certain upper caste students at the Sukhidhang Government Inter College in Champawat, at the behest of their parents, boycotted the meals cooked by her. The district administration had later said that she was fired for alleged violations in her appointment at the school.
The school’s Parents Teachers’ Association (PTA) president Narendra Joshi is one of the accused named in the FIR. The others, according to the SP, are Deepa Joshi, Shankar Chand Joshi, Bablu Gahtori, Mahesh Chaudakoti, and Satish Chand Tiwari. All the accused, named and unnamed, have been booked under section 506 (criminal intimidation) of the IPC and the SC/ST Act.
When asked about the charges against him, Narendra Joshi told ThePrint that he and the other parents did not target Sunita Devi because of her caste. He claimed that her appointment was opposed because the principal quashed an earlier appointment of an upper caste woman and hired Sunita Devi instead. “We did not force our kids to not eat the meals she prepared or to boycott her,” he said.
Joshi said the parents were willing to apologise. “A case has been filed against us, but we do not want any caste-based animosity in our village,” he added.
Sunita Devi’s allegations against parents
Talking about the alleged boycott, Sunita Devi said nothing “happened on the day I joined work and all the students had their meal properly”.
“But, on the second day, a group of upper caste parents led by PTA president Narendra Joshi came to the school and asked their kids not to eat the meal for it was prepared by a Dalit cook,” Devi said.
According to her, the parents in question pressured the school principal to remove her from her job.
Devi also alleged that the accused persons tried to create an atmosphere of hatred against her in the village. “The upper caste parents not only tried to divide the children along caste lines, but also forced my colleague (an upper caste cook who had worked at the school for five years) to boycott me. She told me that villagers were pressuring her to refuse to have food or tea that I had prepared,” Devi said.
She said she will not give up the fight to get her job and self-respect back, but is willing to withdraw her FIR if she gets a written apology — and a promise — from the accused.
“I have heard that they (the accused) are speaking to other Dalit villagers and saying they want the case taken back. I too do not want any animosity among the villagers, but they need to first give an apology in writing, a copy of which has to be submitted to the Chalthi police chowki,” Devi said. “I also want the upper caste parents to promise they will not do anything to promote caste discrimination again.”
Meanwhile, the Bhim Army, a Dalit rights group, has said it “will make every effort to ensure that Sunita Devi gets her job back”. “If that doesn’t happen, the Bhim Army will take the fight to the streets,” added Govind Baudh, president of the group’s Kumaon chapter.
(Edited by Asavari Singh)