MADURAI: After visiting the Kurayur Panchayat Union Government School under Thirumangalam Taluk in Madurai on Tuesday, National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC) Vice Chairman L Murugan directed the Chief Educational Officer to conduct a special drive to admit at least ten Dalit students to the institution within this week.
Senior officials had a tough time parrying questions posed by Murugan, who was here to inquire into the facts of a news report published in these columns on August 16 titled: This school is a 'class' apart in regression.
Later, he had a discussion with Deputy Collector and Nodal Officer for Adi Dravidar Welfare Dhanalakshmi, school headmistress Pushparani, Thirumangalam DSP A Arun, Samagra Sikhsha Assistant Project Director Sivakumar and other officials. Murugan later posed a set of queries, which included:
1. Why was there no Dalit student among the 300-odd children at the school?
2. Did the School Education Department approach Dalit parents asking them to admit their wards to the school?
3. Was there any simmering tension between the caste Hindus and Dalits?
4. Had any peace meeting been conducted?
While officials claimed that their overtures to the Dalit parents had been futile, they said the guardians were admitting their wards to TELC Primary School and Hindu Nadar High School at Chennampatti of their own accord. However, this statement was disputed by the Scheduled Caste community.
Murugan held a discussion with caste Hindus representatives, who claimed there was no discrimination in the village. The representatives went on to enumerate the various drives they had set forth on like drum (thandora) announcements to increase student strength and social harmony. Later, they appealed to the NCSC Vice Chairman to make efforts to upgrade the institution to a high school.
However, when Murugan held discussions with the Scheduled Caste community, the narrative was completely different. The community members claimed that the two-tumbler system was still in practice at tea stalls in the village. The practice of untouchability had percolated to even public institutions like TNSTC buses. The community also denied the claims of educational officials that a drive to encourage admission was carried out.
When Murugan exhorted members of the Scheduled Caste community to admit their wards to the Kurayur Panchayat Union Middle School, the answer was no as they feared for the safety of their children. The community opposed the present location of the school -- in front of a Muthu Ramalinga Thevar statue -- and wanted it relocated to a neutral place.
Addressing the media, Murugan said that while the caste Hindu community had not prohibited the admission of the Scheduled Caste students, the situation was such that the latter were not choosing the institution out of fear. Meanwhile, he promised to get to the bottom of the issue and said he would soon be issuing a notice to the Secretary of School Education.