The class-consciousness ushered by the neo-liberalised economy of the 90s seems to have found firm roots in one of the symbols of new India the modern city of Chandigarh. This is evident in the reported shunning of food supplied under the mid-day meal scheme in government schools by students belonging to relatively well-to-do families.
Teachers and authorities responsible for the implementation of the scheme say the practice has more to do with the psychological barrier of higher and lower class in the impressionable minds of students. The meager number of students who eat the food,which is not more than 20 per cent,speaks for the class-conscious students themselves.
The mid-day meal supplied to the school is only for around 250 students out of a total strength of 1,500. Even though the quality of food has improved over time,the number of students who eat the meal remains stagnant. The reason: students feel that consuming the meals is lowly for them, said Vinod Sharma,a senior teacher at the Government Model Senior Secondary School (Girls),Sector 18.
One of the objectives of starting the scheme,apart from reducing the drop-out rate,was to bring students on an equal platform but it has not achieved its purpose.
Around 200 students of the total number eat the meals,rest either bring their own tiffin or eat at the school canteen. Leaving aside the quality factor,students feel that only those from economically weaker families eat the product, said Raviraj Kaur,principal,Government Model Senior Secondary School,Sector 10. Quoting the significance of langar started by Guru Nanak,she added that the concept of equal class and creed stands defeated when it comes to mid-day meals.
Keeping in view the lukewarm response,schools are ensuring only a limited supply of mid-day meals so that food does not go waste. Those who prefer to going without the meal have a mental block which is defined more by the social and economic status they hold in society, said a teacher at the Government Model Senior Secondary School in Sector 10.
Experts say such behaviour should be discouraged,especially in schools,so that no prejudices are formed in the formative years. School is one place where people from different socio-economic backgrounds study under a single roof. If some students feel that they will be declared outcasts if they eat mid-day meals,they should be taught the importance and relevance of equality. Biases formed due to such small instances can affect a childs social compatibility when he or she grows up, said Dr J M Jerath,former professor,Department of Psychology,Panjab University.