Following regular reports of caste discrimination being received from state schools, especially when midday meals are served, a campaign has been started in Mandi district to sensitise school management committees (SMC) to usher in a feeling of equality among students.

The campaign ‘Discrimination Free Education’ was launched in Seraj Assembly constituency of Mandi district wherein the orientation programme is being held for SMC members.

Started by People’s Campaign for Socio Economic Equality (NGO), the campaign witnessed participation by District Institute of Education and Training (DIET) “We want to usher in caste equality in schools as it would aim to end discrimination at primary level,” Sukhdev Vishwapremi, a member the NGO said. He believed that the campaign would usher in a feeling of social equality among students, particularly in rural areas where social evil is more pronounced.

If we manage to end the vice in primary unit of education, there won’t be any scope left for any such campaigns at higher levels, he reasoned while talking to The Statesman.

He felt a joint campaign involving Education, Social Justice and Panchayati Raj Departments could achieve desired results.

It may be noted that the issue of caste discrimination came to fore in February this year during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Pariksha pe Charcha’ programme in Kullu district.

In the programme, Dalit students were asked to sit outside the room where students of other castes were watching the programme. When the district administration tried to end the divide by serving midday meal to all at one time, some students refused to eat.

Recently, one such incident was reported in Sirmaur district wherein students refused to sit with Dalit counterparts during midday meals. In retaliation, Dalit students too refused to sit next to upper caste students.

That perhaps forced the Education Department to issue advisory to all block level officials of Elementary Education and deputy directors of Elementary and Higher Education to take steps to end the social evil. The officials have been directed to discourage any discrimination with the school children on the basis of religion, caste, creed and gender while serving Mid day meals. The Education Department had admitted that there were some incidents where school children were discriminated against and directed to serve the mid-day meals roll number wise.

“Mid day meal programme must be used as a vehicle for inculcation for good habits, discipline and spirit of social equality among school children and there should not be any discrimination and segregation amongst school children,” Rohit Jamwal, Director, Elementary Education said.

However, if any government official or school is found indulging in such practices, disciplinary action would be taken against erring officials as per the rule of law, he added.

It is worth mentioning here that Scheduled Castes comprise almost one fourth of the total population in the state and maximum number of SC population is found in the districts of Sirmaur, Kullu, Mandi and Solan.

Though Himachal Pradesh has done well in human development index in comparison to several other states, yet the caste based discrimination or atrocities are as high as in other states of the country.