The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) on suo motu cognizance of a media report that there are two separate Anganwadis, one for the children of Dalits and the other for the children of other castes in Gujarat's Hajipur village of Patan district has issued notice to the Secretary, Department of Women and Child Development, Gujarat calling for a report within two weeks. "The contents of the press report, if true, raise a serious issue of violation of human rights of Dalits," observed the Commission.
The report stated that a three-year-old Dalit girl, who was lost in conversation with her four-year-old neighbour friend, walked towards Anganwadi no. 160 but was stopped at the gate and asked to go to Anganwadi no. 159 that was meant for Dalits. “Anganwadi No. 159 is for us Dalits. That day, people in the other anganwadi told my daughter to go to her own. She came home and asked me why she couldn’t go with her friend to No. 160 and I didn’t know what to say,” said her mother Pinki Chamar.
According to the NHRC statement quoting the report published on November 5, in the village of about 2,000 people, Patels and Patidars constitute nearly 70 per cent of population. The 40 Dalit houses are spread over two mohallas of the village. Anganwadi no. 159 came into existence in 1997 and three years later Patidars and the Brahmins demanded a separate Anganwadi for themselves and moved into the premises of the adjoining primary school, the statement said. Anganwadi no. 160 is meant for the children of Patidars and Brahmins. It now shares its space and entrance with the school and its boundary wall separating the two Anganwadis, the statement added.
On July 11, 2014,when the discrimination in the anganwadis was brought to the notice of the State Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (SCPCR), Gujarat, the Commission member Madhuben Senama and her team visited Hajipur and submitted a report to the chairperson of the commission. “It is true that my predecessor took no action on the report. But I have written to the district education officer of Patan and sought a report in 10 days. I will be able to talk only after I get that report,” told Smt. Bharatiben Gadhvi, who took over as chairperson of the SCPCR recently.
Patan District Development Officer Ratankanwar Gadhvi Charan, whose office supervises the functioning of all anganwadis in the district, said, “I have just joined last week. I am not aware of this issue. I will look into the matter.”
Nayantaraben Patel, the anganwadi supervisor for Patan district who is from the Women and Child Development Department, dismissed the presence of two centres in Hajipur as an “old practice”. She remarked, “They have been around since 2000. You’ll see separate anganwadis in other places too. Also, since we have to have a centre for every 1,000 population, Hajipur has to have two centres.”
Sociologist Ghanshyam Shah, a former national fellow of the Indian Council of Social Science Research, said that while Gujarat has always seen caste divisions, such blatant discrimination in primary schools is a more recent phenomenon. According to his statement, “The lower castes are now ghettoised in government schools as the upper castes prefer private schools. Thus the entire premise of the anganwadi structure and the mid-day meal scheme strengthening the social fabric by bringing together students from all communities has failed in the state.”
Varshaben Rawal, a housewife, and mother of two-and-a-half year old boy Arya who goes to Anganwadi No.160 says “Children of Brahmins and Patels come to this anganwadi while the other one is for Dalits. Parents like me would never want their children to sit, play and eat with our children. My husband is a school teacher and I am a graduate, so I am very particular about these things. After finishing my household chores, I come here and sit with my son to make sure he gets the best of learning and food.”
Rekhaben, who is in charge of nearly 62 children of Anganwadi No.160, is also a Dalit, says, “The parents tell me that I am a good worker and treat their children like my own, but I know my limits.”